Harvests and hunger
These days I am enjoying the pleasure of eating tomatoes — fresh from the garden, vine ripe, and abundant in flavor. The many heirloom varieties have different flavors that can be served fresh in creative salads, stuffed and baked, smashed, crushed, or pureed for use in many distinctive recipes. I am freezing plum tomatoes for winter sauces and soups. Joy will overflow when a taste of summer emerges during the winter season.
I planted heirloom tomato plants in the garden this year. A few tomatoes are ripening on the vines, but the yield is primarily green leaves and five foot stalks — a failed crop. A farmer with bushels to sell at the local farmers market said that it has been a tough year for tomatoes. The intense early heat caused the plants to drop their blossoms. Almost everyone is experiencing great crop loss.
Although the plants in my garden failed, access to a local farmers market and money to pay for produce makes it possible to have fresh food. I have food security — the ability to access sufficient food to meet nutritional needs. Farmers have trucks and we all have roads and means of transport to meet at local markets. Government has developed policy and infrastructure to support the growth of local markets and food producers.
The food system is working for me. I have access to quality food that I know is safe and healthy.
However, in this current recession, food insecurity has increased for many Minnesotans, especially women-headed households and children. Unemployment and underemployment is taking a toll. In December 2010, Hunger Solutions MN reported that, as of September 2010, Minnesota has 454,513 people enrolled in Food Support, a 66 percent increase over September 2008. Food shelf visits are up 11 percent statewide. Poverty is the problem, not the availability of food.
Food: An international connection
This summer, famine in Somalia hit the headlines. A regional food crisis is affecting more than 12 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. More than 600,000 Somalis have fled their country and 100,000 are internally displaced because food is not available where they live.
Recurring seasons of drought have affected the ability of farmers and herders in the region to produce food. In addition to drought, multiple causes have interacted to create the crisis: inadequate infrastructure to deliver and store food, poorly functioning government and civil conflict, poverty, spikes in global food prices, lack of investment in rural development and small-scale food producers.
Nevertheless, the famine was preventable. It is possible to track local and global food systems — production, pricing, and availability. But mobilizing the local and global political and financial will to tackle the root causes continues to be a challenge.
The U.S.-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) had issued warnings. The Network anticipates impending famines and advises policy makers on how such famines might be prevented and their effects mitigated. FEWS NET analyzes a variety of data and information to predict when and where food insecurity will occur, and issues alerts on predicted crises.
But warnings don’t catch our attention like crisis headlines. Crises reveal vulnerable peoples and places. They expose food insecurity and call us to see, to remember our common humanity. The call and promise of God to be faithful through times of suffering ring through time in the words of the prophets who called nations and people to overcome poverty and hunger and work for justice. (See Isaiah 58: 10-11.)
As we savor the fall harvest, we can also be mindful and engaged in ways to address food insecurity. Three suggestions:
1. Respond to hunger crises and support rural and agricultural development through Lutheran World Relief. To learn more, see http://lwr.org.
2. Learn from Bread for the World about U.S. foreign aid and food support policy that addresses the immediate needs of people and supports long-term sustainable solutions. Communication with U.S. Senators and Representatives is essential. For more, see http://www.bread.org.
3. October 16th is World Food Day. Plan within your congregation special offerings to support LWR and/or other Lutheran hunger programs. Organize a hunger education and action program in order to engage more people in efforts to alleviate hunger in the U.S. and globally.
Eva Jensen is a Lutheran pastor living and working in the Twin Cities.
Tags: Bread for the World, Ethiopia, Eva Jensen, famine, Famine Early Warning Systems Network, FEWS NET, food insecurity, food security, food system, freezing vegetables, garden, global food prices, harvest, heirloom tomatoes, hunger, Hunger Solutions MN, Kenya, Lutheran World Relief, poverty, Recession, rural development, Somalia, underemployment, Unemployment, World Food Day