April 8, 2013

For the last month, I’ve been tinkering in my new community garden plot. I have spent time there toting water, planting garlic and onions, pressing pea seeds into the soil, making drills for lettuce and radishes and spading in raspberry bushes along the back.

In England this would be called an allotment, in France a potager. The idea of each, and mine, is to grow enough food to add freshness to the table every single day. I am not a farmer, just a gardener, growing food for my household in a 10’ x 20’ space.

For these few weeks, it’s been deeply satisfying to think of this little plot of land and imagine how it might feed us. I’ve been testing recipes for strawberry jam and making fresh cheeses. Wandering the farmers market as it comes to life. Dreaming of ripe tomatoes and peaches and the first raspberries of the season.

All that optimism was shattered when I watched the new film,  A Place at the Table, from Lori Silverbush (aka Mrs. Tom Colicchio.) The film reveals a humbling truth about this country. We are letting our citizens starve.

I know this is not my intention nor is it yours. We all believe in the power of good food. How it lifts us up. How it fuels us, comforts us, allows us to express ourselves in generous and loving ways.

How then, can we live with the appalling reality of hunger in America? And how can we make change?

A Place at the Table is putting the statistics right out there.

• One in five children in America lives in a home that is “food insecure,” where their next meal is uncertain.

• One in six Americans does not always have enough to eat. Yet a quarter of our young adults are too overweight to even serve in the military. How does this happen? Reliance on fast food and lack of access to good, fresh, real food.

• How about having to walk or ride several buses to get choices beyond the processed convenience foods at the neighborhood bodega? To get fresh fruits and vegetables? There are over 6500 food deserts in America, where fresh foods are miles away.

• How is it possible that our fresh foods cost 40% more than ten years ago, yet fast food is 20% cheaper? When will we start subsidizing the right end of the food chain?

• How can we literally let our children starve? Here in this big wide country full of hope? Even the school lunch program, for many children the only meal they can rely on, lacks nutrients and rarely includes fresh, unprocessed foods.

Chef Tom Collichio speaks eloquently to the subject but the voices that stopped me in my tracks were the mothers trying to cobble together enough food to keep their children alive.

I have an idea. (and you know what happens when I have an idea, as Dennis says…)

Maybe the canners in this big country will Preserve Food To Fight Hunger? Would you? It seems all retro and victory garden like and very possible.

Let’s all put up an extra batch, an extra jar, a little bit more, all summer for the hungry people in your community. Perhaps your child’s school, your place of worship or another community source can hook you up with a family in need. Imagine what a dozen quarts of tomatoes or soup or juice or jam or pickles might do to change their circumstances just a little.

If you’re in, let me know in the comments. I don’t know how this will come together, but we’ll figure it out. I have a feeling we can make a difference.

Let’s raise a ruckus. Start a discussion. Talk about policy and how to make change. With all the land, (wo)manpower, and gardeners out there supplying all the talented cooks and passionate preservers, don’t you think we should be able to feed ourselves and a few more?

This is not a new idea. My friend Faye Rojchin told me the Torah tells the wealthy farmer to allocate a portion of his land to those less fortunate, so they might feed themselves. Let your own good fortune spill over to benefit others.

I’m ready to work to make change. Are you? I preserve the foods of the season because I respect it. Because it’s beautiful and smells good and tastes like the earth and the sun when I open the jar six months later. We honor the farmer by preserving his crop in sparkling jars along the shelf. Maybe we can feed some hungry people along the way.


More information:

Check the listings to see if A Place at the Table is playing in your part of the country. Or you can see it on demand through ITunes or Amazon.

I ran across this amazing Ted talk about starting urban gardens and growing food in the space between sidewalk and street in South Central LA. It has made me think for days.

The full gripping, sad story of poverty and hunger in a slide show from Bill Moyer’s group.

39 Responses to “Can In: How Home Food Preservers Might Help Fight Hunger”

  1. Suzanne Krowiak

    I love this idea. We have a large and enthusiastic food swap community in Indianapolis. I would love to organize an event in support of this idea (or help you in any way I can as part of a national initiative). You can reach me by email at suzannekrowiak@me.com if you want to chat more about it. Love the post!

  2. Sharon Miro

    I’m in…great idea…let me know if anyone else in SoCal says yes…And Victory Gardens are still, and will be a great idea…In the 30s & 40’s my neighborhood did them…they had soldiers staying in their basements and cottages and rationing didn’t go far. Now, we still plant and we still share the fruits of those labors and the eggs from our girls…

    • Cathy

      I know these stories and they are so encouraging, right? I want to believe we all have this generosity inside.

  3. Zora Margolis

    This is a great idea, Cathy. I wrote about the D.C. food desert in the Oct./Nov. 2009 issue of Flavor Magazine (now Foodshed). Getting something going like you are suggesting will be a challenge (especially the distribution part), but I suggest you explore D.C. Hunger Solutions http://www.dchunger.org as a good place to start.

  4. Rachel Tayse

    I’m planting an abundance in new garden beds and hoping to have enough to share with food pantries. I’m also making my new homestead available for tours for girl scouts, chicken groups, and the like to show the variety of ways people can support their diets with home-grown foods.

      • Cathy

        The film left me with such a feeling of helplessness. I hope something might come of this idea. We’ll see! I agree with your comment above, Laura. It is political and when I think about what it will take to change the way we look at food and land and people I get overwhelmed. I know I am able to put a few jars of food away for a family and maybe for that family, it will make a difference.

    • Cathy

      What a wonderful, generous and ambitious plan, Rachel. I so enjoy your blog and watching what you’ve been doing at the new place.

  5. gluttonforlife

    Thanks for this post and for alerting me to this film and this Bloggers to End Hunger campaign. Sadly, the issue is not a new one. I’d like to think that some extra canning will make a difference, but I’m afraid it has more to do with political action that changes our agricultural subsidies. That said, I will make an effort to grow, can and give away more food this year.

  6. Elyse Tager

    Lovely idea. Our local food bank does not take anything in jars – so if that is so in your area, canning jars may be an issues. I’m also thinking about excess locally grown produce being donated to food banks. Organizations such as http://www.ampleharvest.org/ (and there are many nationally) have wonderful programs. I live in Alameda, CA, where lemons, plums and a plethora of local gardeners keep our local oranization busy. Just another thought.

    • Cathy

      I’m afraid this will be an issue in many communities, Elyse, but maybe there is a way to sponsor a particular family. Or to have a Canned Goods Sale (like a bake sale) or host a swap and charge an entry fee. I’m reading all these comments and wondering if it’s too big a hurdle, but I can’t believe it is.

  7. Annie@jacksonholefoodie

    I love this idea, and I am intrigued with how it would work in my small town. We have a population base of about 20,000, and a very busy and overextended food pantry. I’m optimistic: Canning and preserving is gaining momentum here amongst people of all ages, and this is an amazingly generous community. Sounds like a good project for my Cookbook Club to tackle. Thanks Cathy!!

    • Cathy

      Oh, Annie! That’s a great idea. I think the food community as a whole is generous!

  8. Pam

    We used to raise many chickens and I would often take eggs to the food bank or the mission because they rarely got them. I no longer have chickens, but my garden this year is 100% tomatoes for canning. What a good idea to share the bounty. Thanks, Cathy!

  9. gale

    Terrific idea, but like Elyse, I wonder how many food banks accept home canned food – I know mine does not (or fresh come to that). Seems counterintuitive, but apparently there are liability issues. Seems so wasteful to neglect such a great resource.

  10. Charlotte Vetter

    I’m in … I’m planting container garden but keeping my CSA box coming…so I’ll have plenty to share.

  11. Charlotte Vetter

    I’m in … I’m planting a container garden but keeping my CSA box coming…so I’ll have plenty to share.

  12. gwen

    I’m in! Would love the excuse to do more as I enjoy the process. Have been frustrated, though, in finding an agency who could accept “home” canned items. I’ve only been able to give to individuals.

    • Cathy

      I agree, Gwen, that’s a hurdle. Maybe a church or synagogue or school could hook you up with a family?

  13. Julie E

    Many church kitchens are certified (or can be) by there local health dept or a other county agency, just like restaurant are. These kitchens are able to can foods and give them to your local food banks in most states. The National Center for Home Food Safety offers a online course through the Univ. of Georgia for home canners that is total free. This is a great way to know your doing things right, here’s the link for that course (it’s down towards the bottom of the page) http://nchfp.uga.edu/

  14. Julie E

    Also to my above…some areas have county canning kitchens or if you have a local restaurant that are certified you can use them to can.

  15. Heidi Pie Aronson

    Hi Cathy. I think you could make beautiful music if you hooked up with my friend Kelly Carlisle. She runs an urban farm in East Oakland called Acta Non Verba and who is constantly trying to connect foodies with food justice. I have no doubt that your connections could contribute as much or more to the process as any number of tomatoes you can this summer.


  16. kirsten@FarmFreshFeasts

    This is a great idea. I’ve been able to donate fresh produce to food banks in both NoVA and now here in Ohio. The foodbank I donate to here supplies smaller food pantries in 3 counties, and I will look into donated extra jams directly to those pantries.

  17. Catherine

    Love the idea, Cathy. But I have to echo Gayle and Elyse – I know a lot of places won’t take home-made (canned, baked, other) food, including 2 church-run pantries in my neighborhood. They literally only want store-bought, preserved/non-perishable items. It’s extremely frustrating. If we/you could find a place here in the DC area, I would totally be in. Especially when the zucchini comes in LOL!

  18. Catherine

    Slightly different take: I’ve noticed that many people don’t know how to use fresh ingredients or “real” food. They’re more comfortable nuking a box of chicken nuggets or warming up a jar of spaghetti sauce than buying and cooking chicken or tomatoes from a can or jar.

    Maybe cooking classes through pantries and soup kitchens would help. How to make lentils tasty and fun. Making spaghetti sauce “from scratch”.

  19. Caitlin

    Also, I am new to DC and was wondering if there is a county extension office or a canning kitchen that might be interested in teaching classes for low-income women to learn to prepare/preserve the produce that they can purchase from many DC farmers markets with SNAP/WIC Get Fresh vouchers.

    • Julie E

      Caitlin, My april 9th comment has a link where anyone can take a free online course in canning through the Univ. of Georgia. It would be fun if you could get a group together and all take the course at the same time, this way you could meet and discuss things as everyone works through the course. When completed with the course you get a home canning certificate. Good luck in your adventure with this, it could change many lives.


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