With food being so important to human existence, you’d think that by now we would have created food systems that are efficient, beneficial and sustainable, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Our current global food systems are not only inefficient, creating both massive amounts of food waste and unnecessary food scarcity, but they're also built on a foundation of racial and economic inequity, extreme animal abuse and environmental destruction.
While it’s unrealistic to think any one of us can single-handedly fix all the layers upon layers of dysfunction in our food system, there are some things we can do to change the foodscape right in our own community. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Organize a Neighborhood Clean-Up Day
Many communities, especially in densely populated urban areas, have challenges with their waste management systems. Because of this, food waste often overflows in outdoor trash cans, makes its way onto vacant lots and even finds its way onto the streets. While the overabundance of trash in urban areas seems like an insurmountable problem, there are ways we can help support the functioning of our community waste management system. Organizing a neighborhood cleanup day can bring attention to the problem while also giving people an opportunity to be a part of the solution.
You can reach out to area tool banks, your local waste management agency or your office of sustainability to ask about having materials like trash cans, recycling cans, work gloves, trash pickers and even garbage bags donated to your clean-up event. You can also reach out to local chapters of environmental organizations for volunteers and resources. Don’t forget to connect with your neighborhood association, churches and schools in the community to help you get the word out about the event!
2. Throw a Community Recycling Event
Much of the food we purchase is purchased in aluminum cans, paper boxes, and plastic and glass bottles — most of which can be recycled instead of ending up in a landfill or at a trash-burning incinerator. While some people recycle regularly, there are still lots of people in communities who don’t know much at all about the ins and outs of recycling. That’s where you can come in!
Creating a flyer that includes information about why recycling is important, what things can be recycled and which day of the week recycling is collected in your area, then handing them out to your neighbors is a great start. You can also organize a recycling event where the whole community can bring their recycled materials to a central location and sort the items together. Add music, healthy snacks and beverages and this could be a fun, educational experience for the whole neighborhood!
3. Host a Monthly Food Giveaway
An enormous amount of food gets wasted in our food system, which is unfortunate since being able to afford the high cost of food is such a struggle for so many people. One of the ways a community can work to offset food waste while also helping to relieve some of the burden of high food costs is to talk with the owners of the grocers, convenience stores, and corner stores in the community about making donations to a community food giveaway.
You would be surprised how many food businesses are willing to make regular food relief donations. And for many families, any extra produce, dry goods and other non-perishable items can make a huge difference. Schools, churches and community centers in your area can be helpful in providing a space for you to hold the food giveaway as well as to help you get the word out about the event!
4. Build a Community Garden In Your Neighborhood
If there are any vacant lots in your neighborhood, they could be the perfect spot to build a community garden. For those who live in areas that have vacant lot adoption programs, getting a lot to start your garden can be as simple as filling out paperwork. If the lot is privately owned, you’ll have to contact the owner to get permission to plant on the site, but property owners often don’t mind their vacant lot being cleaned up and beautified!
Community gardens are a great way for neighbors of all ages to connect with each other, provide healthy food to families and create green spaces that make their neighborhood a more pleasant place to live. There are many online resources that can take you step-by-step through building a garden - from what materials to use for raised beds, to the best topsoil to use, to which fruits and veggies should be planted when. Check out our Beginner's Guide to Starting a Community Garden for some helpful tips!
5. Set Up a Weekly Farmer’s Market
One way to have a huge influence over the food system in your community is to set up a weekly farmer’s market. By connecting with other community gardens and local farms and bringing them together in a central location in the neighborhood, individuals and families have access to a reliable source of fresh food each week. Farmer’s markets also provide financial support to local farmers as well as other kinds of small local business owners.
Parks can be a great place to host a farmer’s market, and getting a permit from the city for this kind of event is usually pretty quick and easy. If there’s no park available nearby, that’s okay because the parking lot of a school, church or community center can also be a very good location for farmers and other vendors to set up tables and sell their products. A weekly farmer’s market has the potential to bring together community members in a way that few other events can!
Changing the way food enters and is distributed throughout our communities takes some forethought and a willingness to work together to solve problems, but having access to fresh healthy food and beautiful green surroundings will always be well worth the work!