Food is a common need among humans. And while we all require a certain amount of calories to get through the day, the methods used to grow, harvest, and prepare these foods are drastically different.
In 2010, 17.2 million households, 14.5 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States (WorldHunger).
While the EPA reports that in 2010, 33 million tons of food was thrown away. Food waste now represents the single largest component of MSW reaching landfills and incinerators, costing Americans about $1 billion each year.
The good news is that many in America are awakening to the dire state of our national food system, and mobilizing to find community-based solutions that support local agriculture as well as increased access to healthy food for those in financial distress.
Below are some of the most popular or well-established ways people are minimizing waste and redistribute food resources within their communities. If you know of other sites or services that belong on this list, please share them in a comment!
Lack of access to quality organic seeds is a major deterrent to those who want to grow some of their own food. This is unfortunate because families who engage in gardening develop a more personal relationship with their food, and are therefore less inclined to waste it. Starting or participating in a seed-lending library reignites the discussion and excitement around food growing, and creates a situation in which experienced growers can share their knowledge with newbies in an informal environment.
Small farms are the lifeblood of the local, sustainable food supply, but they often lack the money and people power to get their goods to market in a rapid manner. Crop Mobs are groups of people who want to support these farms by sharing their time and muscle strength to plant, care for, and harvest its crops for nothing more than the price of a meal. Since that first mob in 2008, more than 50 crop mob groups have started up around the United States, each with its own unique constituency and additions to the model. Learn more at CropMob.org.
So maybe you don't have the time or energy to plant a garden, but you've got plenty of yard space just going to waste. Meanwhile your neighbors living in a nearby apartment complex really want to grow their own food, but they lack the necessary space. Online communities like Seattle-based Urban Garden Share help people who have land can connect with those don't. The work and harvest is shared between multiple community members, building friendships and strengthening the local food system at the same time. Discover the top 5 yard-sharing websites here.
Gardens create an abundance of fresh produce that can be shared between friends and neighbors, but the sharing alone won't solve the problem of wasted food. Learning how to store and preserve this food so that it can be enjoyed long after the harvest season is the key to sustainable food consumption. Oregon State University, as well as many other university extensions, offers a wealth of resources concerning food preservation, as well as Family Food Education volunteers that educate the public about safe food handling/preservation over the phone and at workshops and exhibits.
A lack of community knowledge about nutrition and food preparation contributes to the cycle of food insecurity. When people have access to fresh foods, but aren't sure how to prepare them in a tasty way, it's more likely that those foods will be wasted. Hosting a potluck, a stranger dinner, or food swap is a great way to expand your recipe box and ensure that those 27 pounds of zucchini from your garden won't end up in the compost bin. Online communities like MamaBake encourage people to get together for once a week, big batch cooking sessions where the work, fun, and food are all shared.
Beth Buczynski is passionate about collaborative consumption and the way sharing can help improve our economy. She is also the co-author of an ongoing series of ebooks about coworking and the mobile workforce.
Image Credit: Flickr - hipsxxhearts
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