By Jenevra Wetmore
Grow Your Own Garden seedlings from Sherburne Farms-2020. Photo: Michael J. Caduto
Nearly one-third of Vermonters experienced food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic between March and September of 2020. Data released in mid-May estimates the number of food insecure people in Vermont has increased by 46%, and that child food insecurity has increased by 60%. Since the beginning of the pandemic the Vermont Foodbank has nearly doubled its distribution.
But statistics do not tell the personal stories of the Vermonters who have lost their jobs, the elderly and immunocompromised who are scared to leave their homes to shop, or the families struggling before the pandemic who now face even greater challenges. These individual stories are all around us. Picture the people you know in your community. Chances are, we all know someone who is struggling to put food on the table.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Food insecurity has always existed in Vermont–it just took a pandemic for some of us to see it. Of the households that were food insecure between March and September, more than two-thirds (69%) were persistently food insecure. This means that they were food insecure before COVID-19 and have continued so during the pandemic.
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. Towards this end, over the past year Sustainable Woodstock has taken on new initiatives to help feed our neighbors:
Tackling Food Insecurity “from the Root:” UVM’s food security survey found that more than 41% of survey respondents engaged in producing their own food (backyard animals, fishing, foraging, gardening, hunting, or preserving) since the onset of COVID-19. Among these respondents, between 30-52% pursued these activities for the first time, or more intensely this year than previous years.
In the spring of 2020 Sustainable Woodstock distributed 75 “Grow Your Own Garden” kits to feed 289 people in Woodstock and surrounding towns, ranging from White River Junction to Rutland, and from Bethel to Perkinsville. These kits were free of charge and included a complete set of quality gardening tools, seeds, seedlings and a beginner’s book on organic gardening. Support for novice growers was also made available through a network of experienced local gardeners. Program partners and supporters included Sherburne Farms, West Lebanon Feed & Supply, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Yankee Bookshop, Woodstock Community Food Shelf, Woodstock Area Relief Fund: COVID-19, James & Karli Hagedorn, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Geoffrey Nichols and Howard Krum.
With leadership from our Community Garden Coordinator, Linda Galvao, we were also able to increase the number of available plots in our two community gardens, and will have even more garden space available in 2021, including new plots to grow vegetables for the Woodstock Community Food Shelf. This growth was in response to greater enrollment from families and individuals working to grow their own vegetables and herbs. Fees to use the plots operate on a sliding scale.
Feeding our Neighbors: UVM’s survey found that nearly 15% of respondent households used a food pantry during the first six months of the pandemic. In April & May 2020, Sustainable Woodstock helped fill the funding gap for the Woodstock Community Food Shelf, helping to supply weekday meals for some 180 children in 85 families during the early months of COVID-19 school closings.
Additionally, we arranged for three local cheese makers to donate a significant amount of local cheese to the Hartland Food Shelf, Reading-West Windsor Food Shelf and the Woodstock Community Food Shelf (Cobb Hill Cheese, Spring Brook Farm Cheese and Vermont Farmstead Cheese, respectively). This was done in partnership with the CHIP Food Security Workgroup as part of the coalition’s extensive initiatives to address food security in the Upper Valley.
Looking Ahead: Sustainable Woodstock plans to offer the “Grow You Own Garden” program again this springtime in partnership with several Upper Valley food shelves and other regional partners. Our community gardens are also open to those who need a garden space. We will be adding new, smaller plots into the diversity of gardening options. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also join us for an upcoming food-focused film as part of our Climate Change and Sustainability Film Series. A Place at the Table examines hunger in America through the lens of three people struggling with food insecurity. Virtual screening April 27th-28th, 2021. Register to watch for free at: placeatthetable_2021.eventbrite.com
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.
DO JUST ONE THING:
Join our presentation on food security in the Upper Valley on February 18th, 2021, 5:30 PM, with leaders Jill Lord, RN, MS Director of Community Health at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center; Alice Stewart of Rise VT-Windsor; and Nan Kilmer with the West Windsor Food Shelf. Learn how you can get help and how to volunteer your time or money where needed. Register at hungerintheuv.eventbrite.com