Understanding & Addressing the Root of Food Insecurity

By Jenevra Wetmore & Michael J. Caduto

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Nearly two in five Vermonters (40 percent) reported experiencing hunger and food insecurity during 2022, according to a study carried out by UVM researchers. These are the highest food insecurity rates ever recorded. Ninety percent of food insecure respondents in the UVM study reported that the recent rise in food prices affected their ability to purchase food. The UVM study attributes the high rate of food insecurity to inflation and food prices, as well as long-term impacts from the pandemic.

Food insecurity has always existed in Vermont–it just took a pandemic for some of us to see it. Temporary additional SNAP benefits were enacted to address food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. But in March 2023 all SNAP households’ benefits returned to normal amounts, without the added supplement. Every household is now receiving at least $95 a month less; some households, who under regular SNAP rules receive low benefits because they have somewhat higher, but still modest incomes, have seen reductions of $250 a month or more. Without the additional money, SNAP benefits now average only about $6.10 per person per day. Compounding the predicament that many households are caught in, in 2022, food prices increased by 9.9 percent. In 2023, all food prices are predicted to increase 7.5 percent.

Food insecurity is also an issue of racial equity. On a national level, according to Feeding America food insecurity among black children is three times that experienced by white children, and 1/5th of black households are food-insecure. The National Institutes of Health reports that black and Hispanic households experience food insecurity at twice the rate of non-Hispanic white households. Food insecure households experience significantly higher rates of related health issues, ranging from hypertension and diabetes to poor academic achievement. The economic cost of food insecurity to impacted families, and society as a whole, is estimated at more than $167 billion per year.

Sustainability can mean solar panels and electric vehicles, but it also means sustenance—ensuring that our community is safe and well fed. Food is a human right. We cannot be truly sustainable if we leave struggling members of the community behind without adequate access to the food they need. Two thirds of respondents to the UVM study engaged in some kind of home food production, such as gardening, foraging, hunting or raising animals. Half of those people did these activities for the first time or did them more in the last 12 months. Gardening was the most popular activity. Still, food insecure households reported difficulty having enough money for equipment and supplies, as well as access to land.

Tackling Food Insecurity “from the Root:” In recent years, Sustainable Woodstock has greatly increased our focus on addressing the critical need for sustenance as the root of sustainability for individuals, families and communities. In 2020 we increased staff time to accommodate a 30% rise in community gardeners in our gardens at Billings Farm and King Farm (VT Land Trust). Each year we grow food for the Woodstock Community Food Shelf and Upper Valley Haven (in partnership with Zack’s Place and Woodstock Terrace). We’ve collaborated with and supported the efforts of other organizations addressing critical needs for food and nutrition, including the Woodstock Community Food Shelf, Reading- West Windsor Food Shelf, Hartland Food Shelf and Upper Valley Haven.

Food security remains a critical need throughout Woodstock and the surrounding towns, especially as COVID-era assistance programs are sunsetting. In response, Sustainable Woodstock is continuing and expanding efforts to increase food security. To date, our Grown Your Own Garden (GYOG) project  has distributed 225 beginner gardening kits that have enabled and empowered hundreds of people of all ages to establish new gardens and grow their own nutritious vegetables. Now in its fourth year, in 2023 GYOG will again address the root of food insecurity by providing the seeds, seedlings, knowledge and skills for income-sensitive families to raise their own vegetables. In addition, we have recently increased our Community Gardener’s time in order to grow more vegetables at our Community Garden at Billings Farm to benefit the Woodstock Community Food Shelf and Upper Valley Haven.

Food insecurity existed long before the pandemic health crisis, and it will be with us long after. Join us in combatting hunger. Take action by volunteering or donating to your local food shelf, participating in our community garden volunteer days and spreading the word about these programs to your neighbors.

What You Can Do:

Black Earth Wisdom author Leah Penniman (Photo by Jamel Mosely).


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