Social justice activist and farmer Karen Washington finds it curious that, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, people still don’t have enough to eat.
And it’s a growing problem: In 2020, over 17 million American children did not have consistent access to food. More than one in five Black and Latino households reported that their households did not have enough food to eat, according to Feeding America.
“The question we all ask is why in the greatest country in the world, where we grow enough food, and we waste enough food, that food is not getting down to the people that need it the most?” says Washington, cofounder of Black Urban Growers and Rise & Root Farm in Chester, New York.
Speaking with Forbes staff writer Chloe Sorvino at the Forbes Future of Food Summit Wednesday afternoon, Washington and other community leaders discussed actionable solutions to the problem of food security.
Increasing diversity and involving the community are just two ways to start addressing that problem, Washington says. Part of her mission is to ensure that the next wave of farmers and farming activists is composed of women and people of color. In New York, she says that out of 57,000 farmers statewide, only 139 are Black.
However, Washington also emphasized the need for social capital and communal wealth. Often, food systems are charity-based, which is an unsustainable course of action.
“If we’re going to move forward, we have to look at ways that empower people to look at economic development, job creation (and) entrepreneurship, so that they don’t have to be on food lines and bread lines,” she says.
Acting chief scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young stressed the government’s role in informing the public of food programs, including SNAP, WIC, P-EBT and food banks. The prevalence of food insufficiency among U.S. adults rose from 9.5% in April to 13.4% in December of last year, Jacobs-Young said.
“We all have a role in promoting food security,” Jacobs-Young says. “Federal agencies, state partners, nonprofit advocacy organizations, policymakers and others. We must all work together to meet this challenge.”
Phil Hayes, assistant livestock manager at the Carversville Farm Foundation, has been addressing the issue through a non-profit model. Hayes says labor is often a farm’s biggest expense, and investing in innovative equipment is one of the ways in which it can become less cost-intensive to produce, thus increasing access to food. At his organization, some of these technologies include gravity feeders, invisible electric fences and automated feeding, ventilation, heating and plumbing systems.
“When the cost becomes less,” Hayes says, “then we’re able to sell it for less money and more people are able to access it.”
Founding principal at food consulting firm QJM Multiprise Qiana Mickie says the current food security models are not set up to end persisting hunger.
“They’re not designed to shift the power back to the people who are most vulnerable, the most marginalized,” she says. “Oftentimes they have the solutions but don’t have the resources. They’ve been segregated from resources and from building wealth in order to dismantle the inequities that we’re facing.”