For those of us who are active in the nonprofit world, that familiar phrase is one way to define the phases of outreach, programming, and community impact. The majority of the work we do in the Food Justice sphere will fall under either a Relief, Recovery, or Restoration umbrella.
The old adage “Give a man a fish…” is the perfect segue to a discussion of The Three Rs, through the Urban Seeds lens.
Our 19-week cooked-from-scratch meal share initiative, begun at the onset of Covid, is a marvelous example of a Relief effort. We saw a need to provide fresh, nutrient-dense meals to children and their families in our community to compliment the foods that were being provided by other agencies and organizations. While we have offered numerous cooking demonstrations and food samplings over the years (which is an example of recovery), we had not undertaken sharing full meals. With the understanding that schools and community food share opportunities, such as pantries, were providing large quantities of shelf-stable packaged foods to students and their families, we jumped in with our version of relief — fresh dinners, prepared from scratch, with a salad or vegetable side dish, an entree, and a piece of fruit for dessert. The meals, prepared lovingly by dedicated volunteers, supported our tenet to “eat the rainbow”, which reflects meals laden with colorful veggies or fruit, and from which we were able to elevate the conversation of another strong commitment for Urban Seeds — embracing our moral obligation to nourish our community with foods that are inherently nutritious as they are less processed than typical shelf-stable packaged foods.
This is a delicate conversation — the contrast of sharing large quantities of processed, packaged foods which are much less expensive than fresh, whole foods in regards to convenience as well as cost. Shelf-stable foods contain preservatives and emulsifiers that can be a detriment to health and well-being, especially in children, but that is what allows them to be stable on a shelf for many months. Mac n’ cheese from a box with the bright orange powdered “cheese” sauce is easy, quick, and affordable to distribute and prepare at home, yet it is high in sodium, food dyes, and adulterated fats. The mac n’ cheese dinner made during our cooked-from-scratch initiative, loaded with fresh veggies and complete with a side salad and a piece of fruit for dessert, cost $2.50 to prepare — for the entire meal. Did it take a few hours to make 350 dinners, pack them up, then distribute them? Yes! Was it worth every moment? Yes! Can we continue to duplicate this effort to truly Nourish Our Community? Yes!
Hunger relief can and does have various choices, with a place for each being integral to community support. Yet, when we rely primarily on the less expensive, more convenient offering of packaged shelf-stable foods, we are not optimizing the current and future health and well-being of the children and their families of our community. We can do better. Hence the delicateness of this nuanced conversation…I am not undermining the substantial value of the relief measures provided by community food share programs (food bank and pantries), but I am inviting us, as a community, to explore and support complimentary relief measures that focus on fresh, whole foods.
Now, the pivot to the compelling mission of Urban Seeds, “To advocate for a quality, equitable, and robust food system, increasing access to healthy, nourishing food for all”. This noble mission, focused on Restoration and Resilience Building, encompasses three pillars:
- Providing education and support to families so that they may gain the tools, skills, knowledge, and motivation to create nourishing family meals at home — economically and with cultural familiarity, fostering resilience through the Trauma Informed framework
- Increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and quality meat & dairy
- Supporting local farmers and food producers
Our signature program, Nourish, is a marvelous example of a true Restorative initiative, and which currently incorporates two of the three above-mentioned pillars. Providing high quality, nutrient-dense foods at wholesale prices to our program members, we are increasing their access to nourishing foods. Many of the Nourish offerings are not available within numerous neighborhoods in the Evansville area because there are no full service grocery stores in certain zip codes. Or some whole foods are seen as being outside of their family food budget. What we have discovered both in our focus group outreach and from studies done across the country, is that increased access to whole foods is only one small part of the opportunity to foster resilient families. The more important restorative piece to this type of initiative is to provide education and support to families so that they can conveniently incorporate whole foods into their weekly meal planning. This is accomplished by building a bridge from which education and support is seen as a partnership, and while classes are facilitated by an organization, the topics are chosen by the participant and in some instances, the classes are often taught by peer educators. This leads to family engagement with an emphasis on culturally familiar flavors, techniques, and traditions. As we cultivate a trusting relationship with our members, Urban Seeds is seen as an authentic presence with the ultimate mutual goal of restoration as the conduit to independence, vibrant health and well-being, and confidence among our membership families.
We are working diligently to engage our local farmers — the third pillar of our mission — into the Nourish program. Due to Covid, we’ve not been able to have as robust of engagement with our member families but we anticipate a resurgence in our impact with the soon-to-occur second cohort of members becoming part of our Nourish participants.
Relief = Give a person a fish
Recovery = Give a person a fishing pole
Restoration = Teach a person to build a pond so they may raise fish, increasing independence and building resilience for generations to come.