Hands on Nashville’s Director of Programs Josef Kaul describes the city as a place where “million dollar homes sit next to folks that are struggling to get their next meal.”
“The growth that we’ve seen in Nashville over the last five years has highlighted the discrepancies that exist in parts of our community,” he said.
In communities across the city, discrepancies in access to consistent, nutrient-dense food sources are because of the lack of adequate wages and proximity to food-purchasing opportunities.
“It’s important to understand that hunger exists in every community in America,” said Ally Parsons, director of marketing and communications for Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. “There isn’t a certain type of person or a certain type of neighborhood [where food insecurity exists]. We serve 46 counties in Middle and West Tennessee, and there is need in every single county.”
According to Feeding America, 42 million Americans were considered food insecure in 2015. By the United States Department of Agriculture’s definition, that equates to one out of every six Tennesseans struggling to find consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
Second Harvest, an organization working to feed hungry people and solve hunger issues in Middle and West Tennessee, found in 2015 that the state of Tennessee ranked 14th nationally when it came to child food insecurity.
Laura Kilpatrick, Chattanooga Area Food Bank’s director of agency and government relations, said there is a laundry list when it comes to what causes food insecurity.
“The biggest thing right now is that wages are just not high enough for people,” she said. “It’s setting people up for failure. Even within the nonprofit sector, there are times in the past few years that I have needed help myself.”
Second Harvest partners with almost 500 agencies in their 46-county service area. Nutrition assistance programs and initiatives, much like that of The Nashville Food Project, are their focus.
Booth Jewett, food donations coordinator for the NFP, said the food project is known mostly for their work with community gardens and for the meals program.
“The food recovery donation aspect is in place to support those two programs. We recover food largely from farms and grocery stores. Some restaurants, mainly what we get from them, are meat and cheeses. Produce is our bread and butter because our mission is about feeding people nutritional food and bringing people together to cultivate community through [the meals],” Jewett said.
He explained that the NFP provides for over 26 nonprofits in the area, and that the organization is all about taking what he refers to as a “systems approach” to combat food insecurity in the city.
“A big part of our meals program is we’re just claiming to be a part of a system collaborating with other nonprofits. We don’t have to be doing it all [because each organization] does what they do best. We really believe in that collaboration model and that local ecosystem model. It’s us coming together as a community and finding creative ways to work around food and increase access for our neighbors. Whether it’s via meals or through education or just advocating for housing – for us, it’s finding creative ways to bring people together around this goal of alleviating hunger in our city,” he said.
One organization the NFP works with is Hands On Nashville. Through the organization’s five-acre urban farm in South Nashville, produce is grown and donated back to the food project, helping to provide local, nutrient-dense foods for the food project to introduce back into the community through meals and other local nonprofit initiatives.
“Our little five-acre plot of land is not going to be the solution, but it allows neighbors to help neighbors by coming out and volunteering. With the economic growth that has happened in Nashville, I haven’t seen the food insecurity get any better. Not everyone has been equally affected, and there’s never a silver bullet for any of these things. It’s really futile to try to point a finger or assign blame because it is all of us. We’ve all got small roles to play in fixing these systemic issues. We try to play our small part in doing that by growing that little food in the space we’ve been given,” Kaul said.
Jewett said one small role the food project plays in helping to combat food insecurity is working to evaluate the current food system and find alternative ways to help his neighbors get fed.
“I know it’s not going to be solved overnight. Whether it’s increasing or remaining the same or even going down, it’s going to be an issue for the foreseeable future. For us, the goal is that one day we can work ourselves out of a job – food insecurity won’t be a thing in our city anymore because our communities, farms and business are working together to bridge that gap between 40 percent of food going to waste and the thousands of Nashvillians that lack access to healthy food,” said Jewett. “The bigger the web the more resilient the system. We want to make those connections between people in need and those with excess. For us, there are always going to be people. We have everything we need to solve this problem.”