Sustainability at The Foodbank

Sustainability at The Foodbank

Here’s what we’re doing at The Foodbank to look out for our planet.

By Lindsay Kreill, Garden Outreach Lead

Food insecurity and climate change are two very intertwined issues. Before the pandemic, over 35 million people in the US faced hunger, and that was estimated to have increased to 50 million as a result of the pandemic. At the same time, an estimated 30-40 percent of our total food supply is going to landfills. This becomes an even graver issue when you consider the environmental impacts of agriculture and that people in poverty are the ones most affected by climate change.

According to the EPA, the agricultural sector accounts for 10 percent of the U.S’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Soil management practices lead to the emission of nitrous oxide, and livestock produce methane — both powerful greenhouse gases. Additionally, food production requires a great deal of resources. Approximately half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture, with 77 percent of that used for livestock. In the US, 80 percent of our water is consumed by the agricultural sector. When the end result of this resource consumption ends up in landfills rather than on plates, it’s not only wasteful, but a new problem emerges. Organic waste in landfills generates something called landfill gas as it decomposes, and that gas is made up of methane and carbon dioxide — more greenhouse gases.

This is where food banks come in. As a member of the Feeding America network, we work hard to connect the excess food in this country to the families in our community who need it. We know that there is plenty of food for everyone, and we also know that food waste is harming our earth and everyone living on it. Our partnerships with local grocery retailers is one of the biggest ways we can simultaneously alleviate food insecurity and food waste. Statistics released by ReFED show that around 40 percent of food waste occurs in consumer-facing businesses, and 8 million tons is wasted by retailers specifically. We rescued 3,090,729 pounds of food from our retail partners in the 2020 fiscal year alone, and we are constantly working to better our processes for acquiring and distributing this food.

While our food spoilage rates are remarkably low, approximately 1 percent of food that we receive cannot be distributed. To combat this, we installed an in-vessel composting unit in The Foodbank’s urban garden. Last year we composted 25 tons of spoiled food from our warehouse, and the finished product is currently being used to fill our grow beds for the 2021 growing season. This means less food waste in landfills and more fresh, local, and chemical-free produce for us to distribute through our partner agencies and Drive Thru Food Pantry.

By growing our own food and accepting donations from local community gardens and farms, we not only are able to distribute high-quality produce to our clients, but also cut down on unnecessary transportation. We know that to be good stewards of the environment we must support the growth of our local food system. This is why our garden team is dedicated to using our urban garden as a space for learning and education.

We also recognize that sustainability is often about the smaller, less glamorous changes and are striving to implement those in any way we can. In 2019 we switched all of the lights in our warehouse over to high-efficiency light bulbs.

We partner with the University of Dayton each year to analyze our truck routes and determine the most efficient routes for our drivers to pick up food from retail spaces. In addition to making us more efficient in our mission to relieve hunger in the community, this helps us minimize our impact on the environment.

To reduce runoff and improve water quality, we follow the EPA’s recommended best practices for stormwater management whenever we are developing new projects. The garden is an excellent example of this, as it is located on an old parking lot that we are slowly tearing out and replacing with gravel to remove impervious surfaces. This semester, a group of University of Dayton engineering students are designing and installing two rainwater catchment systems for our compost sheds. The water we harvest will be used to clean compost buckets for our compost exchange program and water plants during the growing season. We are also designing a rain garden that will be installed next to the parking lot behind our building.

While there is certainly always room for improvement, we are excited to share with you many of the ways we are taking action to care for our collective home. Stay tuned as we continue to explore more ways in which we can be sustainable in fulfilling our mission.

Happy Earth Day!

 

 


The American Rescue Plan and new USDA policies support increased food security

The American Rescue Plan and new USDA policies support increased food security

How a recent flurry of policies at the federal level help us do our work

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

In the past month, we have received a lot of encouraging news from Washington about positive changes that have the potential to impact food insecurity rates in the United States. These policies cover a wide variety of programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, debt relief for farmers, and more.

Here is our rundown on some of the latest policies coming out Washington:

The American Rescue Plan includes critical support for nutrition assistance programs.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP), signed into law March 3, 2021, includes sweeping measures to strengthen nutrition assistance programs. These are programs anti-hunger advocates have focused on for years to reduce food insecurity in the United States.

Here some of the measures included in this legislation:

  • The extension of the 15% boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) through September 2021
  • The extension of Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits through the summer to support families with children who typically rely on school meals
  • $500 million in funding for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • $37 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP, commonly known as Senior Food Boxes) to support the nutrition of low-income seniors

Researchers at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University have projected that these policies, combined with others within the scope of the act (including unemployment insurance expansions and the Child Tax Credit) will cut child poverty in half.

The Foodbank, Inc. applauds the passage of these measures. While we are glad to see fewer people seeking food assistance than this time last year, many families in our area are still struggling with lost income, exhausted savings accounts, and increased debt.

In addition to lifting families out of poverty, benefits that are spent directly at grocery stores — which includes SNAP, P-EBT, and WIC programming — have a demonstrated stimulus effect on the economy. According to research from the USDA, every $1 spent on SNAP increases GDP between $.80 and $1.50.

USDA takes a closer look at equity for farmers of color.

The American Rescue Plan also includes $4 billion for debt relief for historically disadvantaged farmers and an additional $1 billion for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a racial equity commission.

While some conservative lawmakers have taken aim at this portion of the ARP, this funding is intended to offset the USDA’s history of racial discrimination against farmers of color.

There is extensive evidence that the department has discriminated against Black, Indgenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers. A 1994 review of USDA loans and payments found that loans to Black males averaged $4,000 (25%) less than those to white males. Additionally, less than 1% of disaster payments went to Black farmers. The situation came to a head in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit, which culminated in one of the largest ever class action settlements in US history.

Advocates have pointed out that discrimination by the USDA has likely contributed to a decline in Black farmers over time. At peak in 1910, 14.6% of all farmers were Black. By 2012, the percent of Black farmers had declined 98% to only 1.6% of the total population. This racial discrimination did not start in the 1990s, either: It has roots in the Reconstruction era, when Black families were promised “40 acres and a mule” and instead were forced into sharecropping.

We are acutely aware that racial inequity is one of the driving factors of food insecurity. As participants in the larger food system, and recipients of USDA-funded product, we are glad to see Congress and the USDA working to provide reparations for past misdeeds and ensure greater inclusion in agriculture.

USDA increases SNAP benefits to lowest-income households.

The USDA announced April 1 that the department would increase SNAP benefits to households already receiving the maximum SNAP benefit, providing $1 billion per month in assistance to an estimated 25 million people.

This decision is a reversal of the Trump-era policy in which all SNAP households were issued the maximum monthly benefit. While this policy provided important support to many SNAP households, the lowest-income households who already received the maximum benefit received no increase.

Beginning in April, households that had not received at least $95/month in increased benefits will be awarded additional benefits.

According to the USDA, “Among households that [previously] received little to no benefit increase, about 40% have children, 20% include someone who is elderly and 15% include someone who is disabled.”

Research has demonstrated that SNAP households in the lowest income brackets are most likely to spend all their benefits, maximizing the stimulus effect of the program.

We are glad to see these changes applied to the SNAP emergency allotment system to ensure that very low-income households are not excluded from receiving additional benefits.

The Foodbank works with a variety of allied organizations, including Feeding America and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, to provide education about the impact of public policies on our programming. To stay up to date on our advocacy efforts, follow us on Twitter at @thefoodbankinc.