By Matt Reese
This time of year farmers around the state are working feverishly around the clock (and the weather) to get the last fields of corn and soybeans harvested and safely in the bin before the harshest winter weather sets in. Along with this accomplishment, comes a special feeling of deep satisfaction unique to farms. It is the completion of a year of planning, investment and long hours. Similarly, getting a mow filled with hay in summer’s waning days feels pretty good and there is also something very comforting about amassing an impressive pile of fire wood before the first snow of the season.
Beyond the farm community, though, these things simply do not compare to a feeling of having a nice stockpile of food for your family as winter arrives. For the Reeses, the 4-H turkeys, chickens, lambs, and pigs have been processed, I just got a quarter of a steer from my brother and the freezer is full of meat as we head into winter. We froze some sweet corn this summer and I even talked another one of my brothers and his wife into sharing a few jars of painstakingly canned garden products to enjoy over the winter.
There are many people in this world, though, who are not so fortunate. According to Feeding America (feedingamerica.org), a food insecure household does not have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. In Ohio, 1,624,180 people are struggling with food insecurity and of them 489,160 are children.
Cuyahoga County had the highest number of food insecure residents in the state of Ohio in 2017 at approximately 233,190 individuals. Cuyahoga County was also home to the largest number of food insecure children in the state of Ohio, at 57,610 children.
According the Ash Slupski, with Feeding America, the pandemic has only made the problem worse. Slupski said in a blog that more Americans are seeking help from foodbanks in 2020 because:
- The pandemic forced businesses and workers to make tough decisions. To prevent the spread of coronavirus, many businesses were forced to close or lay off employees. This is especially true for people employed in restaurants, hotels, other service industries, and small businesses.
- People working in these industries who stayed employed often faced the difficult choice between keeping their paychecks and protecting their health. Many people faced reduced hours and paychecks when their employers reopened. All these changes impact people’s ability to provide for their families now and plan for the future.
- Low wage workers are more impacted by the pandemic. Hunger impacts these families more often because a lower income makes it more difficult to cover expenses. Low wage work also doesn’t come with the same job security or benefits as other kinds of work.
- Since March, people with lower incomes have reported being laid off because of the coronavirus outbreak at higher rates. People with lower incomes are also less likely to have returned to work after being laid off than people with higher incomes.
- Changes to schools mean changes for working parents. Remote learning and school closures present more challenges to families who are struggling. Many working parents need to arrange costly childcare or balance working remotely and providing childcare. People who can’t perform their jobs remotely may decide to temporarily leave their jobs to care for their children. Additionally, families who used the school breakfast and lunch program for free or reduced meals may now need to make up those meals.
In October, the United Nation’s World Food Program was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its role in addressing a growing food security challenge worldwide, including a surge in the number of victims of hunger caused by COVID-19 and related food supply chain disruptions. According to Nobel Committee Chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen, “Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.”
As is always the case in Ohio and around the country, agriculture has stepped up to help when others face challenges, even as the industry as a whole faced its own tremendous obstacles in 2020.
Smithfield, a U.S.-based global food company, recently sent a letter to local, state and federal leaders calling for prioritization of COVID-19 vaccine distribution to food and agriculture workers, along with the country’s healthcare workers and first responders.
“Food and agriculture workers are heroes. They have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, ensuring Americans have access to safe, nutritious and affordable food, and they should be at the front of the line for a COVID-19 vaccine as well….This prioritization will ensure that our employees remain as healthy and safe as possible so that Americans continue to have food,” Smithfield wrote.
From processors back through the food chain to nation’s farms, agriculture has faced unprecedented challenges in 2020, yet has responded with generosity, hard work and kindness to help those in need over and over again to find a bit more food security (and the comfort it brings) to an increasingly insecure world.