There's plenty of food in the world, so why are people still hungry?
GREEN BAY – Nearly 60 people, who have a strong interest in food production, food justice, feeding the hungry and wellness, gathered recently for the kick-off meeting of the Northeast Wisconsin (NEW) Foods Forum.
One of the event organizers, Valerie Dantoin Adamski, told Wisconsin State Farmer that the round table discussion, held at Neighbor Work, an organization in Green Bay that helps secure housing for low-income people, brought together a diverse group of individuals.
“We had representatives from local hospitals, who are interested in providing more fresh, local healthy foods for their patients, and several members of the Oneida tribe, which is providing lunches that include locally grown food for students in their grade school,” Adamski said. “Tribal members also are involved in aquaculture, raising perch for fish fries at their VFW.”
Adamski also has considerable experience as a farm and local foods leader. Currently, she’s an organic-sustainable agriculture and food educator at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. She has a bachelor’s in microbiology and a master’s in agronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
She and her husband, Rick, own Full Circle Farm near Seymour, where they sustainably grazed a 75-cow dairy herd for 20 years. They have been honored by UW-Madison for their outstanding contributions to the agriculture. She is the author of numerous articles and presentations on slow food, backyard gardening, urban poultry ordinances, and ways individuals can take control of their healthy food supply.
A different view on food
Adamski, however, emphasized the attendees had come to hear Dr. Eric Holt-Gimenez, a national thought leader on food justice, who thinks differently about food-related issues such as healthy food access, fair pay for small farmers, strong local food economies and other issues affecting farm families.
Holt-Gimenez grew up milking cows and pitching hay in Point Reyes, CA, where he learned that putting food on the table is hard work. After studying rural education and biology at the University of Oregon and Evergreen State College, he traveled through Mexico and Central America, where he was drawn to the simple life of small-scale farmers.
He has been executive director of Food First since 2006. He is the editor of the Food First book Food Movements Unite! Strategies to Transform Our Food Systems, and has written many academic, magazine and news articles. Holt-Gimenez was also the keynote speaker at the recent Wisconsin Farmers Union annual meeting.
He noted that despite more than four decades of various groups working to help alleviate hunger, too many people are still going hungry.
“In the past, one of the main causes of hunger was lack of access to food rather than lack of food. There was mostly enough food; it was just not in the right place,” he stressed.
With world population now at 8 billion people, one in seven people are still going hungry. But he contends the problem today is not lack of food getting to where the people are, it’s a poverty problem.
“Even if food is available in a community, many people are too poor to buy it,” he related.
Holt-Gimenez was highly critical of those who claim agriculture is failing to produce enough food to keep up with the current world population.
“Our research data show that we are currently producing enough food to feed 10 billion people,” he stressed.
“Much of today’s agri-business really wants us to think that we must keep moving forward using more technology, and more expansion of the corporate food regime,” he said. “We hear that producers just have to keep getting bigger, and it’s too bad if small farmers get run off the land.”
We often hear about the need to send food to Africa, but Holt-Gimenez says statistics show that many people in Asia are hungrier and more food insecure than in African countries.
“We don’t hear about this as much because the Asian markets are not as open to us,” he explained.
He contends that sending large amounts of food into some countries can actually disrupt the local agricultural economy because the prices for commodities are so artificially low that local farmers can’t stay in business.
“Many of them are women, and they are among the poorest and hungriest people in many countries,” he said.
He stressed that hunger is also an issue for many farmers in the US.
"It’s ironic that some farmers can’t afford to buy food when they’re the ones producing the food,” he said.
Searching for solutions
Adamski believes that farmers in Wisconsin and elsewhere can help solve problems related to hunger while also helping to stay in business.
She says agriculture is coming to a fork in the road.
“We have farmers continually expanding, producing more and more commodities at smaller margins, and then we have the new generation of young people who are coming into farming and doing things differently, operating a more diversified farm,” she said.
As an example, she cited her son, Andrew, who is raising truly pastured pork. “Those pigs are efficiently and economically getting 50 percent of their diet from clover out on the pasture."
“One problem is getting food into the communities and to the people. Another question is whether poorer people will ever be able to afford organic food,” she said. “Our son has pledged that a certain percentage of his sales from farmers’ markets will be donated, or provided at a lower cost, to the Oneida Food Pantry. That’s one solution to the problem of helping poor people gain access to really good food,” she said.
One factor hindering progress is the small number of people engaged in farming.
“Farmers make up only 2 percent of the U.S. population,” she noted. ”Because of that we will need to build partnerships with hospitals and other wellness groups, and work with environmental groups to help solve the problems of hunger while also helping farmers receive a sustainable income.”