A food system includes all of the individual units that procure, consume, prepare, market, and more to get food from farm to table. It’s nearly impossible to have a complete food system without consumers, but in some communities – especially rural Northeast Louisiana – healthy food isn’t always accessible to everyone. You have likely witnessed changes in how children receive school meals, increased utilization of food pantries, and increased prices for healthy and nutritious foods in the last two years. Food access is deeply connected to health equity and in a region where several parishes are considered “food deserts”, it is important that sustainable changes are made at the community level to ensure that every consumer has the opportunity to make healthy choices, whether they shop at the high-end grocery stores or purchase their essential food items from the local gas station.
Living in a healthy community means everyone has access to healthy foods. By working to identify and fill gaps in the food system, you can help to reduce food insecurity and make it easier for everyone to make the healthy choice in your community. So, what are some ways you can help make changes in your local food system?
1. You can donate healthy and nutritional foods to your local food pantry or food bank. Most pantries and food banks follow nutritional guidelines when accepting fresh produce and non-perishable items. Food banks are often given an abundance of items like cookies and sodas and the food pantries that are supported by these food banks order these items because they may be easier to store or because all the healthier foods are out of stock. Connect with the pantry managers in your community before you donate food to see what items work with their guidelines. Additionally, you may want to volunteer on distribution days or provide equipment (shelving, refrigeration, storage containers, etc.) for the pantries to increase their capacity to serve those in need in your community.
2. Consider supporting your local farmer’s market by participating or becoming a vendor. If you’re already doing home or container gardening, you can donate or sell your produce at the market. Programs like “Grow a Row to Share” lead by northeast food systems coordinator Cecilia Stevens are great to participate in if you are new to growing (connect with Cecilia at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on this program). You can check out Louisiana Cottage Food laws to see if canned or preserved items you make can be sold or donated to your local market as well!
Changes to one part of the food system can greatly affect some or all parts of the food system and while the examples provided are great ways to help make nutritious food accessible for all, there are absolutely many more ways to contribute! Connect with your local Healthy Communities coalition and LSU AgCenter to learn how you can support long-term changes in your local food system.