It’s probably safe to say that we are all familiar with the uncomfortable symptoms (and often inappropriately loud growls) that accompany an empty stomach. However, many of us are fortunate enough to remedy this with a quick run to the refrigerator. But let’s take a moment to consider a scenario where the remedy was not so simple. What if you had to stretch the little food you had until the end of the month? What if you were faced with the choice of either paying medical bills or buying groceries?
Food insecurity takes on many forms and, although not always seen, continues to be a persistent issue that families face throughout New Hampshire.
A food insecure household is one that has limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. This often arises from financial barriers and limited access to other resources. According to a 2014 study by Feeding America, 48.1 million Americans live in food insecure households and out of that number, 15.3 million are children. Now, let’s turn our focus a little closer to home. Concord, for example, illustrates the full spectrum of socioeconomic diversity that can be found in a single community. According to the Social Vulnerability Index, some parts of Concord experience a poverty rate as high as 22.7 percent, with 15.6 percent of residents lacking a personal vehicle. In stark contrast, other parts of Concord have a poverty rate as low as 2.1 percent, with only 1.6 percent of residents lack a personal vehicle.
Federal food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC), are critical in providing households with the means to access nutritious foods. Despite its merits, there are still a number of contributing factors that limit a person’s access, including where they live, whether they have reliable transportation, conflicting expenses and the list goes on. Many households on federal benefits struggle to consistently bring healthy foods to the table. In order to make food dollars stretch as long as possible, many families have to rely on cheaper, often processed, food items. Further, these programs do not reach all of those in need. Many food insecure households do not fall within the eligibility guidelines to receive Federal benefits and, often, food pantries are the only available source of food assistance.
This provides me with the perfect segway to begin praising the many resources families have at their disposal in the Capital region. An assortment of creative strategies have been implemented to help struggling families stretch their budget and access healthy foods. For example, Merrimack County Conservation District (MCCD) provides area farmers markets with a SNAP redemption program. Granite State Market Match, a statewide nutrition incentive program, is provided at these markets, allowing customers to double the value of their SNAP funds and bring home healthy, local foods. Local farms also donate their excess crops to MCCD’s gleaning program, where the fresh fruits and vegetables are then brought to food pantries across the county.
This is just one small piece in a much larger patchwork of organizations working to alleviate food insecurity. From farmers’ markets and gleaning, to cooking classes and nutrition education, to food pantries and community gardens, the capital region is becoming a leader in the fight to strengthen access to fresh, healthy foods across all socioeconomic lines.
To learn more or to get involved, you can contact Merrimack County Conservation District at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit merrimackccd.org.
For the Insider
Lemmermann works as the Local Foods Coordinator for Merrimack County Conservation District. MCCD is a contributing member of the Capital Area Wellness Coalition (CAWC), which coordinates community resources and builds partnerships to create a culture of healthy living for everyone.
The CAWC meets monthly on the second Wednesday at 8 a.m. at the Center for Health Promotion, 49 S. Main St. in Concord. Visit capwellness.org to learn more.