How to feed a State in crisis? Michigan Food Safety Council report plans to move forward

This article is part of Health, a series on how Michigan communities are rising to meet health challenges. It is made possible by funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began disrupting supply chains and slashing incomes in March 2020, rural and urban Michigan were hit hardest. In both cases, the agile response of state agencies, nonprofits, community organizations, and the private sector helped alleviate much of the resulting food insecurity. These entities have been made in a hurry thanks to online technologies, collaborations and sheer ingenuity. The models they developed were not perfect, but they form the perfect basis for building a food security plan for future crises.

This food safety plan was the goal of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, decree of August 2020 create a National Food Security Council. The order states: “… many Michigan residents continue to live without reliable daily access to an adequate amount of affordable, nutritious food. The effects of food insecurity are significant and far-reaching. The problem is impacting our children’s educational outcomes, our health care costs, the development and stability of our workforce, and crime rates in our communities.

Whitmer appointed 20 board members with experience in healthcare, agriculture, education, business, public health and emergency food. Four state lawmakers were also appointed as non-voting members.

“This is not politics,” says Dr Phil Knight, president of the Food Safety Council and executive director of the Michigan Council of Food Banks. “It’s about children and food, old people and food. It is not bipartisan. It is non-partisan. It is more important than politics.

In October 2020, the Food Safety Council released its initial report. Its recommendations include ways to ensure a ready-to-eat food supply, leverage existing federal food assistance programs, expand the ways people receive food, and create collaborations and infrastructure. that make programs effective at the local level.

“If you are food insecure, you have a problem. And your mind is consumed with toxic stress. You are not free to pursue your next success – job training, education, health care, opportunities for your children, ”Knight said. “Whether you’re in crisis or not, food is how we communicate value. This is how we like people. If we have family coming to visit us, we think, “What am I going to prepare for my family to enjoy? When we do a canned food drive and say, “Here’s something my kids will never eat,” we’re communicating that fewer people need it. “

Food insecurity in urban communities: “We deserve better”

When COVID-19 hit, supply chain disruptions and panic buying crippled access to healthy food, especially in places with difficult incomes, such as rural areas and urban neighborhoods colored. As farms and farmers’ markets across the state have innovated means of redirecting local products to food insecure households in Michigan, those in Detroit Eastern market has taken the lead with online orders, contactless withdrawals and food boxes for those in need. The market has reorganized its Fresh Prescription Program so patients redeeming their doctor’s prescriptions for fresh, local fruits and vegetables can continue to receive the food they need to stay healthy.

“We redid the whole program for home delivery,” says Patrice Brown, member of the Food Safety Council, who is responsible for food access for Eastern Market. “Everyone who received Fresh Prescription vouchers last year was at risk because they suffered from comorbid illnesses. They didn’t want to leave their homes, so we switched to direct door-to-door delivery. “
Patrice Brun.
Near Brown’s house in Detroit, a Meijer supermarket is located about a mile and a half away, but people without a car find it difficult to get there. Many of them buy food from nearby gas stations, dollar stores, and liquor stores, which carry all of the foods responsible for diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high blood pressure. various medical and mental health problems. Brown recalls a time when the neighborhood food landscape included small grocery stores and butchers. The pandemic has exacerbated the lack of access of its neighbors to healthy food.

“We deserve better,” she said. “Being a member of the Food Safety Council has me so excited about the direction our work is taking. It helps me understand how I have to maneuver in my role to make sure some of these things are taken care of. I would love to see a greater mix of dining options in these neighborhoods.

Brown is pleased that the report addresses the benefits that the federal government Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) provided to food insecure households.
Eastern Market in Detroit.
“It was something that families had to see happen. They needed food aid, ”says Brown. “Emergency food was also more important – making sure we could move that food from restaurants, institutions and large businesses that didn’t need it. Now we know that flow and understand how to get these larger quantities in smaller packages, to get them to the people who need them. ”

Food insecurity in agricultural countries: global local eclipses

Rural farming communities are not always included in the debate on food insecurity. But according to Meghan McDermott, director of programs at Preparatory Work Center for Resilient Communities In Traverse City, low-income rural residents are just as likely to shop at gas stations as their urban neighborhood counterparts. When COVID-19 arrived, these residents had even less access to healthy food as their seasonal, tourism-based jobs disappeared. A Groundwork survey conducted at the start of the pandemic found that farmers in the region had just as much to lose.
Meghan McDermott.
“In short, they said, ‘We’re in danger of losing everything,’” McDermott said. “Before March 2020, they had a plan, but it changed to ‘Do I even put plants in the ground?’ Farmers were selling to restaurants and farmers’ markets. No one here for the summer, no one restaurants open, what were they going to do? “

For 20 years, Groundwork has built relationships with local farmers in the area, helping them to successfully run their farms as vibrant small businesses. Part of this work included purchasing local produce for the region’s emergency pantry network. Thanks to a fundraising effort undertaken after the March 2020 shutdown, Groundwork was able to give these local farmers a boost by purchasing many more crops and distributing them to 115 emergency pantries trying to feed. more people than ever.

“If you are going through an economic or health crisis and you only get spaghetti, Hungry Man meals, Meijer sheet cakes and gallons of soda because that’s all you can find on the shelves of the pantry, these keep you in a crisis state, keeping you in this cycle where you can’t work, can’t afford drugs, ”McDermott says. “It really changed the way pantries stocked their shelves.”

The recommendations of the Food Safety Council report include strategies like Groundworks that not only reorient the food supply, but also engage restaurants and their staff in the distribution of prepared meals, create allowances for key food infrastructure workers, and are developing data sharing and technology to track food distribution between organizations. and agencies statewide.

Like Brown, McDermott viewed the P-EBT program as a key component in addressing the additional food insecurity brought on by the pandemic.

“We saw our numbers drop in pantries, which was different from other communities. I think it’s because of the tourist economy. People who used to rely on three months of income to live the whole year were now receiving P-EBT and unemployment benefits, which tells you the extent of poverty here, ”she says. “The easiest way to solve food insecurity is to increase the minimum wage. “

Millions of undernourished Michiganders

Although the work of the Food Safety Council has focused on studying food issues during COVID-19 and preparing for similar future crises, food insecurity was a major issue before the pandemic in Michigan, and it will continue. after the pandemic. According to the Food Safety Council report, COVID-19 increased food insecurity by 38.2% in the general population of Michigan – and by 63.3% in children. However, an estimated 1.3 million Michiganders were considered food insecure even before March 2020. Food insecure people are disproportionately black and brown, disabled, non-university students between the ages of 18 and 30, or living in neighborhoods with high food prices.
Eastern Market in Detroit.
“It’s just not a human services issue. This is a universal problem, ”concludes Laurie Solotorow, member of the Food Safety Council and director of nutrition and healthy lifestyles for the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. “The question is not who wins. We all win. The government wins. We will have fewer people enrolled in benefit programs. The education sector wins. If children are not well fed, they cannot be read well. Health care wins. Communities win. Families win. Businesses win. If people don’t have access to healthy food as children, they will never be the adults they could have been. It is not the problem of one sector. This is everyone’s challenge.

A freelance writer and writer Estelle Slootmaker is happiest writing about social justice, wellness and the arts. She is the editor-in-chief of development news for Fast growing medium and L’Arbre Amigos chairs, Wyoming City Tree Commission. His greatest achievement is his five incredible adult children. You can contact Estelle at [email protected] or www.constellations.biz.

Photos of Patrice Brown / Eastern Market by Nick Hagen. All other photos courtesy of the Subjects.

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