Collective Farming to Combat Food Insecurity. Community Care Project at First Fruits Farm, Maryland
By Nhu Dang
Keywords: collective farming, radical care, food insecurity, local food chain, community engagement
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly a quarter of a million Marylanders suffered from food insecurity (“The Maryland Food Bank”). Recently, the closure of food-supplying facilities such as schools and homeless shelters forced many more families into hunger. Currently, the government-defined “poverty threshold” does not capture families’ true needs to meet food security standards (Hossfeld et al., 2018). For example, family income level does not account for the costs of housing, transportation, and food, which can be more expensive in Maryland than in other states. The disqualification from government assistance of families that do not meet the poverty threshold and ongoing economic downturn placed significant burdens on non-profit food suppliers. The First Fruits Farm, a non-profit farm in Freeland, Maryland, has played a crucial role in tackling food insecurity in Maryland.
First Fruits Farm grows and distributes fresh vegetables and fruits to various food pantries and homeless shelters in Maryland. The farm was born in 1998 from a backyard garden of the Bernstein family. Witnessing the need for fresh food in their community motivated the family to expand their garden into a farm that could produce food for more people. More than 15 years later, the farm extends 203 acres in Middletown, Maryland, is run entirely on donations and volunteers, and becomes a crucial food supplier for those in need (“First Fruits Farm”).
I have volunteered at First Fruits Farm since the beginning of the pandemic and witnessed the hard work that went into food production. This syllabus, which is divided into 5 parts, uses my work at First Fruits Farm to further explore issues of food insecurity, poverty, racism, collective farming, and community care. The first part of the syllabus gives readers a glance at First Fruits Farm’s operations, showing photos and videos of harvest and an interview with the farm’s volunteer director. The second part introduces resources that explain food insecurity and how it is worsened by the pandemic. The third part explores the intersections between food insecurity and other social issues such as poverty, health disparities, racism, and indigenous food sovereignty. The fourth part presents policies and social responses (government food assistance, non-profits, mutual aid) to food insecurity and the drawbacks of these responses. Finally, the fifth part explores collective farming as a mode of resistance against privatization and an educational opportunity for youth.
Part I: First Fruits Farm
First Fruits Farm. Retrieved from https://www.firstfruitsfarm.org/
Dang, N. (2020, September). Zucchini Harvest at First Fruits Farm [Video file]. Link to the video: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-XsG1ZTcSTzCZVnDZUTirLs3JEMH_vNa/view
Harvests with Farm Volunteers [Personal photograph taken in First Fruits Farm, Maryland]. (2020, September).
Gillispie, J. (2020, October 1). Food Insecurity and Collective Farming During COVID-19 [Zoom interview].
(see audio recording)
Part II: Food Insecurity and COVID-19
The Maryland Food Bank. Retrieved from https://mdfoodbank.org/
CBS News. (2020, October 16). Tackling Food Insecurity in the U.S. as Hunger Grows due to COVID-19 Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/video/rockefeller-foundation-blueprint-ackling-food-insecurity-covid-pandemic/
Part III: Intersections of Food Insecurity and Poverty, Health Disparities, Racism, and Indegenous Food Sovereignty
Poverty/ Affordability: B. Eating Healthy Shouldn’t Have to Cost More [Drawing]. Victoria, Canada. Retrieved from http://childrensrightseducation.com/22-respect-for-food.html
This candid drawing by Brooke, a nine-year-old student, depicts a girl who cannot afford to buy healthy food that she sees at the market. Brooke’s drawing highlights one of the main themes of my public service project: the challenge and need for healthy food among those with limited earnings. In Brooke’s drawing, the girl’s hesitation to buy healthy food because “that’s too much” illustrates the difficult choices individuals must make to eat healthy within their budgets.
Hossfeld, L. H., Kelly, E. B., & Waity, J. F. (2018). Food and poverty: Food insecurity and food sovereignty among America’s poor (pp. 17-23). Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
Health Disparities: Connecting Food-Insecure Individuals to Resources. Retrieved from https://foodcommunitybenefit.noharm.org/resources/implementation-strategy/connecting-food-insecure-individuals-resources
Kaur, J., Lamb, M. M., & Ogden, C. L. (2015). The Association between Food Insecurity and Obesity in Children—The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 115(5), 751-758. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.01.003
Mello, J. A., Gans, K. M., Risica, P. M., Kirtania, U., Strolla, L. O., & Fournier, L. (2010). How Is Food Insecurity Associated with Dietary Behaviors? An Analysis with Low-Income, Ethnically Diverse Participants in a Nutrition Intervention Study. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(12), 1906-1911. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.09.011
Structural Racism: Elsheikh, Elsadig and Nadia Barhoum. Structural Racialization and Food Insecurity in the United States. Retrieved from (https://belonging.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/Structural%20Racialization%20%20%26%20Food%20Insecurity%20in%20the%20US-%28Final%29.pdf).
Indegenous Food Sovereignty: “NAFSA: Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance.” Retrieved from (https://nativefoodalliance.org).
Part IV: Policies, Social Responses, and Challenges
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Retrieved from https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program
McCambridge, R., Dubb, S., Dubb, S., Cannito, C., Cannito, C., . . . McCambridge, M. (2020, July 09). Nonprofits Struggle to Stay Alive amid COVID-19. Retrieved from https://nonprofitquarterly.org/nonprofits-struggle-to-stay-alive-amid-covid-19/
What is Mutual Aid. Retrieved from https://www.usacovidmutualaid.org/about
Elsheikh, Elsadig and Nadia Barhoum. Structural Racialization and Food Insecurity in the United States. Retrieved from (https://belonging.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/Structural%20Racialization%20%20%26%20Food%20Insecurity%20in%20the%20US-%28Final%29.pdf).
Part V: Collective Farming and Benefits
The Invaluable Lessons Farming Teaches Kids. (2015, October 18). Retrieved from https://www.beginningfarmers.org/the-invaluable-lessons-farming-teaches-kids/
Jolley, A. (2019, January 10). The Co-op Farming Model Might Help Save America’s Small Farms. Retrieved from https://civileats.com/2018/10/03/co-op-farming-models-might-help-save-americas-small-farms/
Hobart, H., & Kneese, T. (2020). Radical Care: Survival Strategies for Uncertain Times. Social Text, 38, 1-16.