Teach Green Creative

Educate. Advocate. Create.


1 Comment

What is a Food Desert?

I was planning to write about urban gardening next. However, as I began my research, I ran across a term that was unfamiliar to me…food deserts… so I dug a little deeper. I wondered. What is a food desert, exactly? On the surface, it seems to be a contradiction of terms.

By some serendipitous twist of fate, later that same day (really), I took a break from my work and made a quick trip to the grocery to pick up a fresh loaf of bread. My local store was busy with people stocking up for an impending stretch of extremely cold weather. I quickly completed my shopping and made my way to the exit. I walked past the first few cashiers, swamped with customers, to the last checkout where the line was surprisingly short.

As I began to empty my cart onto the conveyor (I can never leave the grocery with just a loaf of bread), I realized that the young woman ahead of me was paying for her groceries with food assistance checks (a rarity in my suburban neighborhood). The cashier kept up a friendly conversation with the woman, complementing her on the beautiful baby that was wrapped in blankets and sleeping in her cart. It took a little longer for her to complete the transaction, but the cashier’s pleasant demeanor never wavered. An older woman, who I presumed had accompanied the mother and daughter, stood off to the side and watched. When the cashier was finished, she wished them well and the three women left, smiling.

As I continued to unload my cart, the older woman returned to the cashier, gave her a big hug and thanked her for her kindness. It turns out that she was a Good Samaritan who offered to drive her neighbor to the grocery when she ran out of baby food. She had been stranded without a vehicle and the woman offered to help. In the parking lot, I saw them again. The wind was howling and blowing the snow sideways. I thought about the baby wrapped in blankets. As I pulled away, I noticed that my car thermometer read -2° F.

Right then and there, I reminded myself to be more aware of the people around me. I also realized that food insecurity isn’t just a problem reserved for the urban poor or developing countries; it exists in communities all across the United States… sometimes in places where we least expect it.

Food Deserts in the United States

OPFC3Cu - Imgur
According to a report to Congress prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 2.3 million households in the United States are more than a mile from a supermarket and lack access to a vehicle.

That’s not 2.3 million people… that’s 2.3 million households. Think about that. Your refrigerator is empty and the nearest food store is more than a mile away. Now, if you’re living in the city, you may have the option to take a bus or the train to restock your food supply. But what if you live in the suburbs or in a rural area? What if it’s -2° F and you have a hungry baby and no car? What then?

The main measurement used to classify a food desert is the distance from nutritional food retailers. Further, proximity is not the only factor, as individuals may live close to a retailer that provides nutritious food, but the healthy food selections may be more expensive, creating an additional barrier to access. The physical distance from full service supermarkets also leaves residents of these areas more likely to purchase food from convenience stores or fast food restaurants that offer mainly processed foods that are high in fats and sugars.

In 2010, Michelle Obama brought national attention to the problem of food deserts during the launch of her Let’s Move! campaign. This initiative is dedicated to giving parents helpful information about maintaining a healthy diet and links to programs that promote active lifestyles. It also advocates for nutritional menus in our schools and is working to ensure that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. Recent findings show nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. If we don’t change our current habits, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and asthma.

Solving Problems at the Local Level
Part of the problem stems from the fact that we have become a nation dependent upon others for our food production. We rely on imported products and ship domestic produce thousands of miles from its original source. This has not only increased our transportation needs and carbon footprint, but it has also put local farmers out of business. Although we will realistically never return to the agricultural roots of years past, we can all make an effort to increase the amount of locally grown products we consume. This is not a problem that has a one-size-fits-all solution. We need to address the issue at the local level and tailor solutions according to each region and specific growing season. As the trend toward sustainable lifestyles continues to grow, seasonal farmer’s markets, home food delivery programs, backyard gardens and urban farms are cropping up in communities across the country.

Creating a healthy relationship with food doesn’t have to be all work and no play. It may quite possibly serve a dual purpose. Researchers recommend that creating a direct connection between fresh produce and the consumer is an excellent way to promote healthy and sustainable lifestyles. Examples of this include urban farm programs; learning how to a start backyard or patio garden; and school programs… all great ways to experience nature and get outside and active.

Green Schools Can Play a Role
Schools can play an integral part in developing sustainable food delivery systems within the community. One of the most efficient ways to implement wide-scale change to society is through our education system. There are many ways a green school can work with the community to address important issues that affect the health and welfare of children and their families, including:
• teaching students about the impact of their eating habits on their bodies and on the environment
• incorporating healthy food choices in the school cafeteria
• creating edible gardens in schoolyards and local parks
• building kitchen classrooms within the school to demonstrate healthy food preparation
• using green curriculum to give kids hands-on experiences in growing a garden
• utilizing the insights and resources of business leaders and other community stakeholders to meet the needs of the community
• making school the center for community activities and an example of sustainable practices

As Americans, we are blessed to live in a country where the rights and privileges of its citizens are protected by law… Where nearly anything is possible if we are willing to work hard in order to achieve our goals. However, the system and its citizens are far from perfect, and with these rights come responsibilities to each other. Unfortunately, we are often quick to defend our rights, but much more reluctant to live up to our responsibilities. There needs to be a more equitable balance between the two. There is no reason that a young mother should wonder how she’s going to feed her baby in the middle of a snowstorm. It takes a village to raise a child and that should still be the number one priority of communities not only here in the United States, but around the world.

I know this may sound like an antiquated notion, but I took a couple of minutes to go online and read our Declaration of Independence. I was reminded of the monumental effort and risk the signers of that document put forth with no assurances they would ever succeed. The last line sums it up best for me:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

I hope you will join me in helping others in need. CBG_Desert FlowerI believe they come across our path for a reason. At the very least, offer a smile to someone who could use a little encouragement. Like a flower in the middle of a desert, it may just brighten their journey.

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth

Advertisements


1 Comment

Hope for a Greener America

americas_great_outdoors_progressreport

In his inaugural address, President Obama made the environment a top priority for his second term. Many were surprised by his resolve. However I wondered…was this truly a shift in government policy, or was something else at work here?

As I began to look for answers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that many eco-friendly programs have already been set into motion and are gaining momentum across the country. During the election, we were bombarded with partisan battles about all sorts of environmental issues, including the future of fossil fuels, pipelines, and the EPA. Some even labeled climate change a hoax designed to deceive American citizens with false beliefs and interests. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Fortunately, the majority of the American people are genuinely concerned about protecting the environment and many had already begun green projects and programs at the grassroots level. But if that’s the case, why aren’t we hearing more about them?

Well, the answer is… now we are, and Obama’s reelection is part of that clarion call. There’s a new enthusiasm about the environment and it’s energizing both the people and the politicians. Citizens are finally standing up to defend the importance of ecological stewardship and their proactive efforts are dovetailing nicely with several “participant-friendly” federal programs.

America’s Great Outdoors

AGO-report-300President Obama is famous for his grassroots approach to change. In fact, many will agree that this strategy not only was the key to his election success in 2008, but also made him a two-term president in even greater numbers this past year. So it should be no surprise that in April of 2010, President Obama had already introduced America’s Great Outdoors (AGO), a citizen-directed initiative aimed at reigniting our historic commitment to conserving and enjoying the magnificent natural heritage that has helped to shape our nation.

By February of 2011, a report was completed by various governmental agencies in consultation with the American people. The report was a culmination of the comments and conversations of more than 150,000 citizens in communities across the country. Citizens including farmers, ranchers, hunters, anglers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, parents, teachers, and young people, along with conservation organizations, state, local, and tribal governments, historic preservation groups, faith communities, and businesses shared their ideas on how to connect people with America’s natural and cultural treasures, and also ways to build on the conservation successes already implemented in their areas.

The results indicated that the American people want to continue to enjoy their outdoor heritage and preserve it for their children and grandchildren. AGO strives to empower all Americans to share in the responsibility to conserve, restore and provide better access to our lands and waters, and reconnect Americans to natural landscapes and cultural heritage sites, leaving a healthy outdoor legacy for future generations.

This is not the first time that a president has harnessed the power of American citizens to protect the environment. From 1933 to 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt championed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the United States, one of the most popular of his New Deal programs. The CCC was a public work relief program that not only provided unskilled manual labor jobs in conservation and the development of natural resources in rural lands owned by the  government, but also led to a greater public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors. President Obama’s AGO initiative builds on Roosevelt’s legacy of stewardship and reaffirms American’s commitment to conserving the extraordinarily diverse lands and waters that nourish and support us.

Let’s Move Outside!

Lets Move OutsideFirst Lady Michelle Obama introduced Let’s Move Outside! a couple of months after the president’s AGO initiative and this program plays a key support role in advancing his recreation and conservation agenda. In order to keep our country viable in the 21st century and beyond, we must also pay attention the health of our human ecosystems, especially the health of our children. Let’s Move Outside! is the outdoor activity component to Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, aimed at ending childhood obesity through promoting healthy eating habits and active lifestyles for American children. Let’s Move Outside! links parents to parks and trails across the country and offers families helpful suggestions on ways to develop a more active lifestyle.

Kids need nutritious meals and vigorous exercise to stay healthy and fit. Unfortunately, times have changed and children spend more and more time on inside activities like TV, video games and the computer. Parents are busier than ever before, and as a result, families eat fewer well-balanced meals and kids snack in between. According to the Let’s Move! website, “Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese… If we don’t solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.” 

However, habits that have developed over the past several decades will not be easily undone. To effectively correct the imbalances in our daily lives, there needs to be a frank dialogue on the repercussions of our lifestyle choices. We must teach children that eating is an important part of life and has the greatest impact on the world’s resources and on our personal health. We can begin by providing them with healthy lunch choices at school to prove that we are serious about making significant changes to our current system. We can also begin to teach them how to make healthy choices for themselves.

Ecological awareness – understanding the network of life’s systems and cycles – is a key factor in helping people to adopt more sustainable habits, including eating. To be ecologically “literate” requires reconnecting people with the human ecosystem– it requires relearning how to live within the context of our own human habitats and communities. In short, it requires education.

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

department-of-education-Green-Ribbon-SchoolsAll living things change their environment in some form and the life cycles of all species are continually evolving. However, humans have been endowed with the gift of reason. Therefore, as the human influence on the planet becomes more pervasive, we cannot escape the responsibility of using our intellect to manage the natural spaces and species and mitigate the effects of increased human involvement. Unfortunately, we are changing the earth faster than the rate of comprehension of this change and thus, the need for environmental education has never been more important than it is today.

President Roosevelt once noted, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education…” The same can be said about the safeguard of humanity and essentially all life on earth.

Despite clashes on Capitol Hill about the validity and severity of climate change, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes that education plays a vital role in the sustainability movement. As a result, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan initiated the annual U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award in 2011. According to the U.S. Department of Education website, “The Green Ribbon Schools recognition award honors schools that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs; improving the health and wellness of students and staff; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education, which incorporates STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), civic skills and green career pathways. The recognition award is part of a larger U.S. Department of Education effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about practices that are proven to result in improved student engagement, higher academic achievement and graduation rates, and workforce preparedness, as well as a government wide goal of increasing energy independence and economic security.”

The results were impressive with over 350 schools completing the application. The winning schools were those that made the greatest progress in three areas, including reduced environmental impact, improved health and effective environmental education.  The first ever 2012 honorees hailed from 78 school systems in 28 states, the District of Columbia and the Bureau of Indian Education and while each school went about “going green” in their own way, they all serve as shining examples for other schools to follow. It’s a great start, so spread the word and get involved!

In Closing

As citizens of our great democracy, we are always quick to defend our rights, but much slower to accept our responsibilities. Oftentimes, we may doubt whether our individual efforts can make a difference, when in fact it’s the only thing that can truly bring about lasting change. We cannot solely rely on the people we vote into office to safeguard the things we hold dear. Each of us should understand the ecological impact of our actions and become active participants in shaping the programs and policies that affect our country. This will ensure that the changes we desire are ideals that will continue to sustain us as a nation and endure for generations to come.

American history has proven that there’s strength in numbers. Let’s move forward together…

Elizabeth