Moving Towards Food Sovereignty12 Sep 2019, by AmeriCorps VISTA, Food for Others, Harvest VISTA, National Site, Virginia in
Maheyaar Barron is the Gleaning and Produce Recovery Coordinator at Food for Others, a food bank and pantry located in Fairfax, Virginia. The organization services the northern region of the state through a multitude of programs such as emergency food aid, weekend meals for elementary school children, neighborhood site deliveries, and community partner support. The gleaning program, which began in 2017 in partnership with Harvest Against Hunger, connects local growers to families in need, bringing in fresh produce directly from farms, farmers markets, and community gardens.
Many have heard the saying: “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” The origin of this quote is hotly contested, but its validity is most certainly not. Self-sufficiency is a sure way to promote better health outcomes within a community, decreasing the need for the emergency band-aid solutions that are all too prevalent. But what happens when the person knows how to fish, but has no body of water nearby, or no bait or tackle? What then?
In Northern Virginia, land availability is both scarce and expensive. Community gardens have long waiting lists with high yearly fees, and limited public transport decreases the number of available options. This is bad news for the regions 148,850 food-insecure families, who have the cards stacked against them with high rent, low wages, and limited resources.
Through their VISTA program, Food for Others is looking to promote preventative measure in the fight against hunger and is making an active effort to open up land to hungry families. The organizations have two plots located at Peace Lutheran Church in Alexandria, and currently boast 16 raised beds, high fencing, and hand-painted designs. As of now, 5 families occupy 10 of beds, with the remainder being run by a partner, Food Uniting Neighbors. The families get to keep their beds as long they want and are able to choose the produce of their choice. Food for Others provides funding for seeds, soil, equipment, etc. as well as Master Gardeners in case there is a technical question. The gardens are in their 3rd year of operation and have grown over 414 lbs this summer.
The goal of this project is to give families the ability to make decisions for themselves, opting for a less paternalistic approach. The results include the growing of more culturally relevant foods, longer-term health benefits, and dignity. It also means five fewer families that will be coming to Food for Others for emergency aid.