I have several passions in my life. If you have not figured out one, I love agriculture. A second is teaching/coaching. My third passion, known mostly by my friends, family and close colleagues, is my deep devotion to baking and cooking.
I absolutely love combining butter, sugar and flour and ending up with a scrumptious treat that brings smiles to the faces of my recipients. I adore experimenting with cookie flavors, cake styles, frosting and fillings. I could not be happier than when I am in my kitchen baking a treat to share with friends and family.
For myself, I love to experiment with cooking. Most evenings, I cook a meal from scratch and rarely are two meals exactly the same.
Cooking and baking are not cheap passions, and it is probably the one thing that I splurge on frequently. I have been truly blessed to be able to afford the food I want, when I want it. However, for so many in this area, the ability to have enough food is limited, especially around the holiday season.
The Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area has been ranked the second-highest food insecure area in the nation, according to a report released by the Food Research & Action Center (December 2019). The report found 22% of households in our area struggled to buy enough food for themselves during the 2016-17 year.
The No. 1 area for food insecurity was Bakersfield, Calif., where 23.2% of families struggled to get food on the table (2019).
Imagine six friends. Of those six friends, one has struggled to put food on the table. This is the reality for some people in Ohio. They could be your friends, neighbors or complete strangers.
I think, too, it is important to define what exactly food insecurity is. Food insecurity, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is “a lack of access at times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members” (Second Harvest Food Bank).
Many times, the images associated with hunger are situations of homelessness or extreme cases of abuse. However, this is not the reality.
Food scarcity can be found behind beautiful doors of homes that are in mortgage default, with all money going toward trying to maintain the facade of success. Food scarcity can be found in homes where parents skip meals or eat the bare minimum to make sure their children have dinner.
According to a study done in 2015 using data from 2013, Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties had 91,620 people who did not know where their next meal would come from; 31,430 of those people were children (Second Harvest Food Bank). I cannot image those numbers have decreased in the last four to six years. If anything, I believe we are probably looking at more than 100,000 people that are food insecure now.
In Trumbull County, 35% of food insecure people are above the 185% poverty threshold for nutrition programs and therefore cannot receive assistance. Only 12% of food insecure people in Trumbull County actually qualify for food assistance; they fall between the 130% to 180% income threshold.
This next statistic shocked me. There is a threshold for being too poor to qualify for food assistance! In Trumbull County, 53% of people are too poor to qualify for food assistance (they fall below the 130% income threshold). Yes, you read that right — too poor to qualify for food!
However, there is some positive news for food insecure children in Trumbull County. Almost 75% of food insecure children are eligible for nutrition programs, while only 25% are ineligible (feedingamerican.org).
While food insecurity is scary for adults and can affect their ability to work, function and even face life, food insecurity for children can be devastating. Inadequate food, especially in early childhood, can affect how a child’s brain grows, stunting their intellectual abilities in the future and possibly never recovering that lost potential.
So, you might be thinking to yourself, what does this have to do with farming and agriculture?
I believe if we eat, we all play a role in agriculture. Farmers work hard all year to grow, harvest and produce the food that many of us take for granted on our tables three times per day. However, everyone probably has a few cans of peas in their basement, maybe a stray can of beets you accidentally grabbed while reaching for kidney beans for your famous chili, or some coupons that require three boxes of macaroni and cheese when you only need one. Instead of letting them sit there taking up space, let’s donate them to a local food bank.
This holiday season, I challenge you to clean out your pantry or shop with coupons and donate items to local food banks to help our friends and neighbors who are food insecure by providing canned goods, fresh produce, volunteering time or cash to a local food bank near you.
In this season of rest and thankfulness, let’s help out farmers by making sure that every table and every man, woman and child has enough food to ensure a happy and healthy holiday season.
Submitted by Christen Clemson, a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau, who has completed her doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University. She and her family farm in Mecca Township.
OFBF Mission: Working together for Ohio farmers to advance agriculture and strengthen our communities.