What’s Growin’ On: Accessing Healthy Food - Part I
“If we (start to) base food production on the richness of our diverse societies, we can improve the situation.” - Myrna Cunningham
Consistent access to nutritious food is paramount for a healthy and enriching life, but it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of food system vocabulary. Below you will find part one of a general overview of concepts surrounding healthy food access accompanied by resources for a deeper dig. As always, thanks for growing with DPL!
Food security is the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. The inverse, food insecurity, describes limited or uncertainty regarding access to safe and nutritious food due to lack of funds or geographic accessibility, such as a food desert. Here in Colorado, nearly 2 in 5 people (38%) are food insecure. Food security does not affect us all equally, 52% of non-white and Latinx Coloradans struggle with food access (compared to 30% white Coloradans). Families with children face the greatest struggle, with more than half reporting having trouble with consistent access to nutritious food.
Food security consists not only of reliable access to sufficient food that meets dietary needs, but also ensuring that food is safe and sovereign. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food as well as the right to define their own food systems. It shifts the focus from a market driven industry to the people who produce, distribute, and eat the food. Native food systems are paramount when looking at the growing movement towards secure and sovereign food systems. Many Indigenous communities are reclaiming their local food systems, working to combat hunger, increase access to healthy and traditional foods, and enhance community health.
- Food by Fabio Parasecoli
- Gather on Kanopy
- Indigenous food sovereignty in the United States : restoring cultural knowledge, protecting environments, and regaining health edited by Devon A. Mihesuah and Elizabeth Hoover
- Our changing menu : climate change and the foods we love and need by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman.
Biodiversity is the variation that exists amongst plants and animals at the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels. Looking specifically through the lens of food and agriculture, biodiversity is essential for successful and sustainable food security and development. Diversity promotes healthy soil, provides habitats, controls pests, basically maintains a healthy balance within ecosystems. Biodiversity also promotes resilience in the face of possible environmental stressors, such as changing climates and extreme weather--the more diverse an ecosystem the better chance of having varieties with traits that can survive, adapt, or thrive in ever-changing environments.
A major issue today is the rapid decrease in biodiversity in agriculture. According to the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations there are “more than 6000 plant varieties that have been cultivated for food,” but fewer than “200 make major contributions'' to global food production and a measly “9% account for 66% of total crop production.” Which means by design we are decreasing the variety of crops being grown leading to the weakening of crop resilience for the future. An incredible amount of crop diversity has been lost as farmers move (or are pushed by the private sector) from diverse local crops to high yielding varieties (such as soybeans, palm oil, and sugar cane).
- Colorado Agriculture Statistics Map
- The edible ecosystem solution : growing biodiversity in your backyard and beyond by Zach Loeks
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - Biodiversity Report
- Seeds on ice : Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault by Cary Fowler
Heirloom, open-pollinated, hybrid, GMO seeds:
Heirlooms are things passed down and shared from one generation to another and seeds are no different! When we talk about “heirloom” varieties we refer to the heritage of a seed within communities and families, seeds with stories and histories as rich as the peoples who plant, grow, consume, and save them. To qualify as an heirloom the variety must be open-pollinated (meaning a variety that only cross-pollinates with members of the same population and produces offspring with the same traits) or pollinated by natural means such as insects, birds, wind, etc. They must also “breed-true,” meaning the plant keeps its original traits from generation to generation.
Hybrid seeds refer to a plant variety that is created by crossing two genetically distinct parent populations. The advantages of hybrid seeds is that breeders can combine desirable traits from parent plants, which can help with disease resistance. Large seed companies produce hybrids for high yields, but also because they can claim ownership of the varieties, forcing growers to repurchase seeds each year.
GMO seeds are organisms that have had their “genetic composition altered by way of molecular breeding technique.” The insertion or removal of specific genetic traits allows for tailored design of crops for more desirable characteristics, which often results in increased crop yields. The flip side is the homogeneity of GMO crops contributes to a decrease in plant diversity which can make crops more susceptible to disease. Additionally, most of these varieties belong to large agricultural companies and are genetically designed to work specifically with herbicides and pesticides also manufactured by these companies. The seeds are designed to be dependent on chemicals (both manufactured by the same companies), making for needy, vulnerable seeds, as well as farmers who are forced to rebuy GMO seeds each year. The U.N. estimates over a billion acres are annually planted with GMO crops worldwide.
- Heirloom : time honored techniques, nourishing traditions, and modern recipes by Sarah Owens
- We are each other's harvest : celebrating African American farmers, land, and legacy by Natalie Baszile
- Of The Land - GMOs and Industrial Food on Kanopy
- Seed Saving & Gardening Terms from Seed Savers Exchange
Since the majority of GMO seeds were created in a lab, most of them will also be protected by patents. This means saving and sharing these varieties would be violating patent laws. Farmers and growers can be sued even if their neighbors' patented seeds blow unknowingly onto their property (as happened to Percy Schmeiser versus Monsanto). These herbicide-resistant seeds produced by major seed companies currently account for 89% of corn and cotton and 92% of soybeans grown on U.S. soil. The major seed corporations Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont collectively control 53 percent of the global commercial seed market.
- Lords of the harvest : biotech, big money, and the future of food by Daniel Charles
- Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds on Kanopy
- The Patent Landscape of Genetically Modified Organisms
- Patent Free Seeds - Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance
Participate in DPL’s Seed Library:
The Park Hill Branch Library, Ross-Broadway Branch Library, and Central Library continue to offer seed bundles for pickup! Fill out this form to request up to 3 bundles per patron and make sure to check out our new bundle options. You will receive an email letting you know when your bundle is ready. This service will be offered while supplies last.
We’d love to join you on your seed journey: post your garden progress on social media with the hashtag #growwithDPL—we can’t wait to see what you grow! Please reach out to us if you have any questions.