This term the “Hunger in the City” capstone is exploring the concept of food security with a particular focus on youth. Our community-based learning takes place on beautiful Sauvie Island where capstone students lead farm-based field trips for local elementary age students. Back in the classroom, we discuss ways to build a sustainable food system which takes into account the social, environmental, and economic dimensions of food.
Community food security is a condition in which all people obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice. (Hamm and Bellows, 2003) Food insecurity rates among Oregonians have risen sharply since the economic recession of 2008. Among food box recipients surveyed by the Oregon Food Bank, “36% of households with children reported cutting or reducing the size of a child’s meal” (OFB 2011-12 Annual Statistics.) Research shows that food insecurity can have a significant impact on the physical, cognitive and social development of young people. Many low-income families live in “food deserts” where there is limited access to healthy and affordable food. As a result, children in these families may suffer from “the paradox of obesity and hunger” in which the consumption of a high calorie and low-nutrient diet (i.e. often the cheapest foods available) may contribute to obesity.
Back at the farm, we have the pleasure of interacting with elementary age students from Portland public schools on a weekly basis. While we can’t be certain of the food security status of these children, we do know that many of the participating schools are classified as Title 1 Schools where at least 50% of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. In partnership with the Sauvie Island Center, we have the opportunity to engage students in learning about “food, farming and the land.” As field trip leaders, we introduce kids to a local organic farm, give them an opportunity to taste a variety of healthy foods fresh from the fields, and teach them about the plant cycle and the larger food web.
As this course comes to an end, we are beginning to question how we can continue to be effective allies to young people beyond the life of the capstone. Can we, as individuals, positively influence our food system so that more children can be spared the experience of food insecurity? If so, how? Needless to say, food insecurity is a complex issue with direct ties to our larger political and economic system. Shall we employ a direct service or systemic change strategy to address this problem? These are some of the many questions we are grappling with in these final weeks of the term.