Farm Fresh Perspectives: Community food security: You can make a difference

If you are reading this, I’m willing to bet you eat food. If not, and you can harness the sun’s energy and turn it directly into your own personal nutrition, come to my office because I’d love to meet a green person who can photosynthesize or a plant that can read.

If you do eat food, I’m guessing you would probably like to continue doing so pretty regularly. Not only that, you probably want food that is affordable, nutritious, tastes good, and is free of harmful pathogens. Do you think that is a lot to ask? Maybe not, but there are poor, hungry, and malnourished people in this community that, for a variety of reasons, do not have access to such a diet. These people could be considered food insecure.

Some of you may have the luxury to be more conscientious, and prefer food that is locally-raised, certified organic, humanely-treated, and/or minimally processed. You want to support food production and distribution systems that are less resource-intensive so they can continue to be viable in the long run. I know food like this is not always easy to find. Access is becoming easier through whole and natural food outlets, but I doubt you can find everything grown or processed in the way you would prefer. And just because you can find it doesn’t necessarily mean you can afford it. So, although you may not be going hungry, is your diet or the food system you are supporting really as secure as you think?

So what is community food security? Well, it is a concept that rolls together aspects of social equality, environmental stewardship, and regional planning. The best definition I have run across so far is from Mike Hamm and Anne Bellows on the Community Food Security Coalition’s Web site ( and reads as follows: “Community food security is a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.” Why is anyone hungry in this time of abundant food? Why does the number and diversity of farms in our region continue to decrease? If catastrophe were to strike and interstate and/or intercontinental travel and transport were made difficult or impossible, would this region be able to feed itself? Do we still know how to eat seasonally and preserve foods that we can’t grow year-round?

These topics and more will likely come up at the Rockford & Four Rivers Food Security Summit Jan. 27-28 at Rockford College. If you have anything to say about our regional food system, or would simply like to learn what local people are concerned about, the Food Security Summit has been specifically designed to be an open and equitable forum for attendees to discuss their thoughts and opinions. Food system professionals will be helping to direct the dialogue in large sessions with everyone present, but people with similar ideas will be breaking out into smaller, action-oriented groups that will create practical plans for moving toward their vision of what our food system should look like. Each attendee will go home with a document of these plans to use as a guideline in their own personal and working lives. So show up with your pen, your thinking cap, and your strongest voice. For more info, get in touch with me or go to

It may sound like community food security is too broad a concept for any one person to have any real influence, but this is not true. The Community Food Security Coalition offers a whole list of things that one person can do to improve the food security in his or her little piece of the world. Support local and sustainable food production by patronizing farmers’ markets, stores and restaurants that source food locally, and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. Start a home garden, or volunteer at a community garden or local farm. Grow food, buy food, or volunteer for your local food bank, food pantry, soup kitchen, or underserved school lunch program. Advocate to friends, co-workers, or community groups by educating them about food security or bringing them to the Rockford & Four Rivers Food Security Summit.

One person armed with knowledge and energy can stimulate improvement in our food system, so take a step in the right direction and be willing to help others follow.

Andy Larson works with the Initiative for the Development of Entrepreneurs in Agriculture in University of Illinois Extension. He can be reached at (815) 397-7714 or

From the Jan. 11-17, 2006, issue

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