How Do You Eat an Elephant in the Desert?
The word ‘desert’ conjures up images of intensely hot, arid weather, sand dunes, and harsh conditions. We tend to imagine them to be far-off places like the Middle East or Africa. What if I told you that the desert was only a few blocks or a couple of miles away from your front door? While it may not be hot and covered with sand, it’s just as harsh as the Sahara or Death Valley. It’s a local food desert and it affects us all.
The USDA defines food deserts as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”
This occurs when there’s no local grocer or farmer’s market within one mile of an urban neighborhood. The only food available is at local convenience stores and “Quickie Marts” that carry only processed convenience foods that have little or no nutritional value and contribute to the obesity epidemic, diabetes, and heart disease.
The USDA Economic Research Service has mapped “census tracts” and defines them as a “census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low‐income areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet.”
According to government data, Tarrant County alone has over forty census tracts designated as food deserts!
How does this affect you? First and foremost, this is a humanitarian issue – EVERYONE has the basic human right of access to food and health. Tarrant County is fortunate to experience strong economic growth and has for many years. As the population grows and more residents move to the suburbs, the grocery stores and farmer’s markets follow them, and often close the less-profitable stores left in low-income urban neighborhoods where food and hunger exist as well.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity “as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. … Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the level of the household.”
In Tarrant County, one in four children (and one in three if they are African-American or Hispanic) go to bed hungry or face food insecurity. One does not have to live below the Federal Poverty Threshold of household income of $24,858 per year to experience food insecurity. Over 25% of households facing food insecurity live at or just above the poverty guidelines and fully 36% receive no federal or state benefits. (further information is available through the Tarrant Area Food Bank – https://tafb.org/ and Feeding America – www.feedingamerica.org).
Not only is this a humanitarian issue, but one of economic concern as well. The resulting health issues from lack of nutritious food create more emergency room visits and hospital care for often preventable illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. Low-income residents, often uninsured, are forced to utilize county hospitals such as John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. Care for low-income and indigent clients places an additional burden on the county health system and is often borne by the entire community in a variety of social and economic ways. Longer wait times for healthcare and additional property taxes are just the tip of the iceberg…
The magnitude of the problem can be overwhelming, but there is a solution!
Addressing food issues is much like eating an elephant. It can only be done one bite at a time! Unity Unlimited, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) has taken the first bite!
Unity Unlimited, Inc. was granted use of thirteen vacant acres in Fort Worth by the Trinity Regional Water District (TRWD) for the express purpose of creating an urban farm. Ms. Opal Lee, a longtime community and humanitarian activist in Fort Worth, is a founding member of Unity Unlimited, Inc. focused on helping people overcome racial and cultural division so that they can live productive lives in harmony with their fellow man. Talks with TRWD led to the dream of an urban farm providing farm-fresh, nutritious food for residents of the community. That dream has become reality.
The necessary permits are being issued and Unity Unlimited, Inc. will soon be breaking ground on Opal’s Farm. Located just east of downtown, the farm sits on rich, fertile bottom land near the Trinity River. Initially, five acres will be prepared for planting right away. The remaining eight acres will undergo soil preparation for additional crops. Only 100% organic methods will be utilized with special care given to the soil and the environment.
Following each growing season, produce will be distributed throughout area food deserts, helping restore health and vitality to local neighborhoods. A portion of the fruits and vegetables will be sold to local chefs, restaurateurs, and markets to support local farm-to-table needs and to help make the farm self-sustaining.
It’s not only about the food – that’s just the first step. Changing lives, educating, providing growth opportunities – that’s what agricultural intervention can do!
The farm will create jobs, provide job training, and bring a spirit of entrepreneurship and self-reliance to the local community. The 13 available acres of urban land will connect food production, processing and distribution in the same space. This is basically from farm to plate; which is a win-win for the residents, county, state, and country.
Opal’s Farm and North Texas Giving Day
Opal’s Farm invites you to become an “urban farmer”, to take the first bite out of the proverbial elephant. Whether as a volunteer, farm sponsor or financial partner, together we can take a bite out of surrounding food deserts and build healthy, vibrant Fort Worth neighborhoods.
Thursday, September 20th, 2018 is North Texas Giving Day. Communities Foundation of Texas’ North Texas Giving Day offers a special opportunity to become an “urban farmer” and a financial partner with Opal’s Farm. Make your secure donation at https://www.northtexasgivingday.org/unity-unlimited-inc. Throw on your overalls and become a part of Opal’s Farm today!