Vanderburgh County has a disparity in access to fresh and nourishing foods. Nineteen (19) percent of our neighbors fit the criteria for being nutrient-insecure—not knowing where their next meal is coming from or having access only to foods that are low in nutritional density. Forty (40) percent of Evansville is considered a food desert–or a high priority food area–which means there is no retail space within one mile that sells “food” beyond what is found in a gas station convenience store. Fifty-six (56) percent of our neighbors qualify for SNAP benefits (supplemental nutrition assistance program). One in four residents report wanting to, but not being able to purchase fresh produce in the last month—due to lack of transportation, holding down two jobs without time to shop during retail hours, or lack of walkable access to a grocery store.
Each and every day we consume food in order to survive and thrive. We eat for necessity, for comfort, for delight, and as part of our social connection with others. Sharing meals brings us together in relationships with others — whether we are seeking nourishment after a long day at work, celebrating a family milestone, or fueling up before a game. But for many of our neighbors, access to fresh and nourishing foods is limited for any number of reasons related to socioeconomic disadvantage. Not only does this create strife within families and their communities, but it increases the risk of cognitive affects in infants, toddlers and children. This food injustice and disparity in access is compounded by the fact that affordable foods are the most processed foods — laden with man-made fat substitutes, high fructose corn syrup, food dyes, food additives and preservatives. Scientific research indicates that the consumption of these low-nutrition value processed foods is linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as behavior challenges in young children.
Food is powerful. It has the ability to sustain us for a lifetime, but for those with limited access to vibrant and fresh foods, health can be depleted by the daily consumption of processed, cheap, and low-nutrition value foods. What we eat matters, affecting our physical health, mental capacity and function, energy level, pain level, sense of well-being, and longevity. Its daily effect on our lives compounds to a lifetime effect of how we feel, what we are able to accomplish in our lives, and how we live out our relationships with others. With all of this—our feelings of well-being, health, and livelihood to be considered—we need to evaluate and consider not only the foods that we consume, but our moral obligation to ensure that all of our community is able to access fresh and nourishing food.
Fresh, vibrant and cleanly grown produce is locally grown and readily available to us, as a consumers, right here in Vanderburgh County. Locally-grown produce and foods that are prepared within our community will not only satisfy our hunger and nourish our bodies but will sustain a local foods economy that supports local, small farmers. These foods are available to us and our families, our friends and our neighbors at farmers markets and some smaller grocery stores. However, many in our community do not know where to purchase these foods, how to obtain them at the most cost-effective price, and how to prepare them in a way that is healthy, time-efficient and delicious.
Urban Seeds, an Evansville nonprofit organization, is providing resources to increase access to healthy food to all of our community. We endeavor to empower our neighbors and friends to select healthy foods, locally grown or prepared when possible, at a cost-effective price, and to prepare healthy and delicious meals for themselves and their families. Urban Seeds is working with local growers and producers to strengthen the food economy in Evansville so all people can access and consume fresh and healthy foods despite their zip code, socio-economic status, or food knowledge.