When we learned this week about the new “Grow a Row” for LIFT-UP of Routt County program initiated by the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition, we were intrigued with its simplicity and potential.
Steamboat Today editorial board — May to September 2014
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- John Merrill, community representative
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Grow a Row seeks to leverage the increasing interest here in producing food locally, to generate a seasonal supply of fresh produce that would be channeled to low-income families. LIFT-UP Executive Director Laura Schmidt told us that her organization’s food bank clients are eager for more fresh food in place of the packaged foods that are the staple of many food banks.
And that’s a good sign. The national media have widely reported the perplexing problem of the urban poor who live in neighborhoods that are far removed from modern supermarkets. Denied access to fresh produce, many families on the edge of economic sustainability turn to inexpensive meals of fast food or highly processed food.
A March 2013 Time magazine article that included an interview with the author of the book “Salt, Sugar, Fat,” pointed out that Americans poor and affluent know they need to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, but that goal is not attainable for the working poor.
Author and New York Times journalist Michael Moss told Time that when low-income shoppers weigh the cost of a small container of fresh blueberries, for example, against the cost of processed energy bars that include excess sugar along with blueberry filling, it presents a difficult choice. Essentially, families living just below the poverty line are pushed in the direction of processed foods that offer poor nutritional value.
The problem isn’t a scarcity of food, but the prohibitive cost of healthy food, Moss explained.
“Everyone is convinced that the government subsidies that support processed food need to be shifted over in some way to fresh fruits and vegetables or it’s going to continue to be hard for even people who want to eat better to do so financially,” he told Time.
The new Grow a Row program here can’t solve similar challenges in the Yampa Valley — the growing season is short. Local gardeners can’t produce enough fresh vegetables and fruits on a year-round basis to truly alter the diets of our working poor. But gardeners willing to grow an extra row of salad lettuce for LIFT-UP, or bring in a bucket of root vegetables, will be overcoming the high costs of fresh foods while reinforcing their benefits to people who might otherwise feel compelled to make less healthy choices.
Local gardeners who want to up their game in order to produce food for LIFT-UP can easily access the Master Gardeners fostered by CSU Extension in Routt County for advice. They will be found at the Saturday morning Farmers Markets beginning June 14 and continuing through Sept. 13. At least one master gardener will staff a booth at the market on Seventh Street and will welcome questions.
And LIFT-UP is in talks with another nonprofit in the region, LiveWell Northwest Colorado, about establishing a container garden where LIFT-UP clients who choose to, could get their hands in the soil and raise a crop of their own.
We can easily imagine that some LIFT-UP clients — single parents with two jobs, for example — already have their plates full (in the metaphorical sense). But for people who have the time, we think the healthy benefits of growing food locally would quickly expand to include improved self-esteem, a sense of ownership, and of accomplishment.
Not to mention the satisfaction community food growers will realize from sharing their crop. We applaud these healthy initiatives on the part of the local food community.