A few weeks ago I encountered Javier Thellaeche at a Friends of Family Farmers InFarm event. He was here on a mission for his organization “Alternativas” to find out what America’s cities were doing about food insecurity. We had a good chat and discussed the hunger situation in each of our countries. As we are all aware America has an obesity epidemic, which is often linked to poverty due to the low cost of highly processed foods full of salt, fat, and sugar. In Bolivia, Javier tells me, there is a rising problem similar to the U.S. in certain areas, but mostly the concern is malnutrition due to lack of enough food and limited diets. According to “Alternativas“, 60% of Bolivians live on less than two dollars a day and spend up to 80% of their household income on food. This situation makes them extremely vulnerable to even slight fluctuations in food prices. In America, our food insecurity issue revolves more around gaps in assistance and access to resources. These sound like two very different food security problems, but as we spoke it became clear that “Alternativas” approach to tackling food insecurity in cities is much like what is happening in progressive cities like Portland. Urban agriculture, garden education, and grassroots community organizing are working to build community support networks in order to give skills that may offer more independance from an unpredictable food system. Let’s look at Alternativas mission for a moment.
“To generate sustainable approaches that lead to greater food security in Bolivia. Alternativas works to unite civic, public, and private efforts in the design and application of public policies, programs, and initiatives related to the production and consumption of ecological, local food.”
~Maria-Teresa Nogales, Executive Director
The key words here are ecological and local. There is a common understanding amongst grassroots movements that growing a community where at least some highly nutritious food is produced locally while fostering a mindset of environmental stewardship is key to a more food secure future. Alternativas points to community gardens, urban agriculture, and entrepeneurship to strengthen food security. If we look at organizations around Portland like Growing Gardens, Outgrowing Hunger, Zenger Farm, the Portland Fruit Tree Project, and Urban Gleaners we see similar tag lines of sustainability and skill building for those who need more access to healthier foods. Here is another quote from Alternativas Executive Director which explains why community members in Bolivia and Portland are looking to sustainable, local food systems for their cities.
“Urban agriculture offers city residents greater food security, improved public health, greener communities, and opportunities to generate income.”
Large scale commodity agriculture might always be necessary, but the complete replacement of local foods and skills to grow vegetables locally is what often causes nutritional deficits in diets leading to malnutrition AND obesity. Quality of life is an underlying concern amongst the varying missions between grassroots community organizations. Poverty is not going away, but living better on less by creating food equity and healthier environments for those of us who have limited income can help level the playing field to achieve better, healthier societies. So go volunteer! Step out into your community and see how your local food system is working together for food justice.