Growing your own food improves communities and saves money

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When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Arlington, I drove to Dallas six days a week, where I worked in the Oak Cliff neighborhood that I now understand to be (and 11 years later is always) a food desert. What struck me every day while driving on Interstate 20 was that the grocery stores and healthy food options which were abundant near my home became more and more sparse as I approached the office. A powerful way for communities like this to tackle food deserts across the United States is to grow their own produce. In addition to producing nutritious vegetables, these urban gardens pay big dividends in terms of improved health, well-being and even financial benefits.

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What is a food desert?

One of the first times the term “food desert” was recorded was in the early 1990s in a Scottish government publication targeting low-income communities. Over the past three decades, the definition of a food desert has evolved. But no matter who you ask the question, this is usually an area where access to healthy food, whether through agricultural markets or just grocery stores that sell fresh produce, is slim to none.

Lakeisha Coleman, Ph.D., in her 2018 thesis for the Department of Sociology at Georgia State University, described food deserts as “areas in which access to healthy and affordable food is relatively limited and / or areas where these available establishments are separate. by a great distance, making them difficult to access Low-income, racially segregated neighborhoods have fewer healthy food choices and lower rates of diet related illness. “

However, Anga Sanders, founder and executive director of FOOD Chêne Falaise, believes that “the term” food desert “is incorrect, because a desert is a natural phenomenon. politicians, racial profiling, zoning issues, and the uncontrolled encroachment of predatory retail (dollar stores, payday loans, etc.) all contribute to the creation of these desert areas.

Far too many families in America, like those in Oak Cliff where I worked, live in food insecure communities and / or food desserts. Food insecurity means they don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from; desert food typically means a lack of actual grocery stores in their area and / or a lack of affordable transportation to places to purchase fresh foods that are not available in their own neighborhoods. These two circumstances lead to a dependence on fast and accessible fast food, which poses multiple problems, both in terms of health and cost.

Related: How to donate food from your garden to a local pantry

After all, a fast food meal for one costs an average of $ 5 to $ 7; that’s up to $ 28 for a family of four, which is more than the minimum wage breadwinner earns in an hour. If you cook at home, though? It is approximately $ 1.50 to $ 3 per person, a savings of 40 to 79% and a healthier diet to boot.

According to Feed Texas, a network of organizations in Texas fighting to fight hunger, the financial impacts of living in a food desert are considerable; families have to make tough decisions such as choosing between food and utilities on a certain week. In addition, malnourished children and adults may experience health complications which lead to increased medical costs across the board.

Benefits of growing healthy foods

With no fresh food available in their quarters, many of those who live in food deserts start to grow their own through the small and large-scale home and community gardens, and they see the financial, emotional and community benefits. For mental health and wellness alone, dozens of studies confirm that gardening can have a huge positive effect. Charlie Hall, Ph.D., horticultural and economics specialist at Texas A&M, said AgriLife today that just being near plants “reduces psychological distress, symptoms of depression, clinical anxiety, and mood disorders in adults.” Hall added that at the very least, growing plants can distract us from anything that causes us stress.

And while growing your own food helps keep fast food costs down, it can reduce your entire grocery bill thus whether or not you live in a food desert. Families across the country spend a high percentage of their monthly income on groceries; the last The data USDA states that a family of four can spend between $ 599 and $ 1,370 per month on groceries. And since the US census statistics that show the median household income in 2019 is $ 68,703, which means that the average family spends 10-24% of their annual income just on groceries. Growing your own food is an economical solution ways to subsidize that grocery bill; vegetable seeds are cheap, and you can even get them for free at your local library Where seed exchange managed by gardening groups.

Champions of community gardens

Who is leading the charge when it comes to the ancient food desert communities that grow their own food? Individuals, families and non-profit organizations nationally and locally. National organizations include the American Association of Community Gardens and the National Association of Recreation and Parks. In my own community, organizations such as the 1Love Unity Garden promise to “tackle the food desert (illusions) with education, resources and empowerment”, showing young people that healthy eating creates healthy minds.

And then there’s Paul Quinn’s We Over Me Farm, with a mission to transform the health and well-being of disadvantaged communities, and Friendship West’s The village cooperative, which works to enrich the lives of farmers and community residents with its garden and farmer’s market. What’s happening in my old desert food community in North Texas is just one example of what’s happening across the country to address both inaccessibility and rising fresh food prices.

Where there is a visible garden, there will be more.

In the southern Dallas area, where Oak Cliff is located, the community’s need to make up for the shortage of fresh foods has created an ecosystem of advocates who are changing things for the better: Anga Sanders, of FOOD Chêne Falaise; Ples Montgomery IV, from Oak Cliff Veggie Project; and Fed Up Dallas have all worked to end food apartheid by providing healthy food choices in South Dallas.

And where there is a visible garden, there will be more. When you show that growing your own food can be done, more people are encouraged to do so. And in doing so, they combat food deserts and improve the health of community members mentally, physically, emotionally and, last but not least, financially.


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