Local food is clearly more accessible today than, say, five years ago, for residents with extra time and buying power. But what about everyone else? What about the 18.7 percent of children in Hamilton County, 14.2 percent of children in Campbell County, and 27.3 percent of children in Adams County—along with other children and adults throughout our region—with food insecurity?
Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.” One in nine Americans is in that category, according to Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization that’s tracked American food consumption since 2011. If you’re a child in America, your chances are one in six. There are local efforts underway to improve accessibility to good, affordable food for all. Here’s how:
We now have a voice devoted to improving our food system.
The Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council was created in 2015 to advance a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system for all within Greater Cincinnati’s 10-county region through policy, systems, and environment change. Its vision is to get good food to all people—by their definition, food that’s healthy (nutritional), green (produced in a sustainable manner), and fair (meaning no one was exploited in its creation).
The council works with governments, schools, businesses, and other organizations on food access, but also on food waste, soil health, and other topics related to a healthy food system.
Those among us on government food aid can buy local in more places.
What started at a few markets in Cincinnati in 2014 is now a statewide nutrition incentive program for all of Ohio called Produce Perks Midwest. The nonprofit serves any Ohioan who qualifies for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps, and allows recipients to use their dollars on food from Ohio farms, farmers’ markets, and other places where healthy local food is sold. From 2011 to 2018, Produce Perks Midwest grew the amount of SNAP dollars used in its program by nearly 1,500 percent, from $16,574 in sales to $264,268.
In addition, the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program now has an initiative that provides $5 coupons to WIC recipients for use at farmers’ markets and farm stands, such as Findlay Market. For more information, contact your county WIC office.
Community gardens and edible forests are growing.
Community gardens are plentiful around the region and have a low bar for entry. A plot at Westwood Community Gardens costs $25, for example. The Civic Garden Center maintains a list of community gardens.
Then there are the efforts to create public edible forests, like one along the Mill Creek Greenway on the western portions of the Cincinnati neighborhoods of Northside and Spring Grove Village. Giving Trees is an organization that installs edible fruit and nuts plants to create food forests; in 2017 and 2018 they planted 466 trees and bushes that produce food at area churches, schools, community centers, and elsewhere.
Freestore Foodbank produce pop-up markets.
The Freestore Foodbank has made it a goal to get more fresh produce to the people it serves in Greater Cincinnati by launching Produce Pop Ups in 2017. Over the next year, Freestore held 464 Produce Pop Ups across a 20-county region, distributing more than 1 million pounds of produce.