Of Food Deserts, Food Insecurities, and Natural Disasters

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How does your family cope when there is no money to buy food? What if you have money, but you cannot afford the ingredients for a healthy meal? Maybe you ave suffered from a natural disaster, can you prepare a meal. An edible landscape can be one method of providing food.

    My children and I are each preparing a flat for more seeds. This process has been happening every day for the last three days. I do save time by purchasing vegetables in pots, but that habit can be expensive for all of my vegetable needs, and I do not always find the variety of vegetables that I want. An herb farmer mentioned that he had to be planting almost every day to keep up his supply, and I almost feel that I am doing the same. Late August was rough on my vegetable plants, and I did not harvest as much as I desired. When I scan the garden beds now (not long after August), I discover a great deal to use in my meals. A series of questions and conversations caused me to wonder about the availability of healthy food.

    Does every large urban area suffer from food deserts? These are areas where there are no grocery stores to serve the community. Most residents have to carry in packages on the bus trip home, or they buy not so healthy food options from a convenience store. Local governments try to address this issue by providing tax incentives to stores in the hope that they will open up a location in a food desert. I do not feel that this has ever worked. There are solutions which have succeeded, but they are not replicated.  Moreover, people in a food desert may also be effected by food insecurity, which is happening outside of food deserts to a greater degree. Food insecurity is the state where a family cannot afford to purchase food. Food banks have been running low on supplies, so they cannot always keep up with demand. If we throw a natural disaster into the mix, such as the cyclones which have recently hot the Phillipines, or the flooding in Thailand, we may begin to ask ourselves the question of how to provide food to all on a consistent basis.
    After hurricane Ike, I made an effort to feed my family. The children’s pediatrician asks each visit if we sit down as a family for a meal once a week. My son quickly replies that we eat together each night. When families were left without electricity after the hurricane, I imagine their routines were overturned to a degree that they knew not what to do. From the question posed by the pediatrician, I gather that most families do not sit down together. Maye some families cannot go without their fast food? My family did benefit from having a storage of canned food that I had purchased in the event of a storm knocking out the power, but we also were rewarded by gifts from the garden. My biggest problem was being able to provide a dessert. The fruit that we had went quickly, and the children really wanted more.
   I have read that certain cities ban vegetable gardening from the front yards of homes. At first, I was dumbfounded by the notion of such a ban, but then I thought about what the city may be truly against. If I created rows of raised beds in my front yard for vegetables, my neighbors would have been up in arms.I know that some of my neighbors are upset that I have torn out lawn to fill in the area with garden beds, but they have not been outraged. The beds have the characteristics of a landscaped garden. Many people are familiar with ornamental varieties of kale or cabbage, so a grouping of the edible plant appears no differently to them. I was working on plans for my edible landscape yesterday, when I hit upon the idea of lilies. A field of lilies would look great. True lilies are edible. The inspiration of adding lilies caused me to go through my books to see what edibles that I was missing, which can be part of a landscaped yard.
    This research lead me to a conclusion about edible landscapes: they can be a part of a solution to food deserts and food insecurities. We can encourage the growing of food in places were we had not considered by making landscaping a focus. At my local park, people walk the track to exercise. There is usually a soccer game in the making.  The children are on the playground, and parents are sitting at the tables discussing the days events. The park is nice, but there is not much to see in the way of plants. A few trees dot the park. What if there was a rolling bed along the edges? Plantings of cabbage and kale abound like they do in front of some office buildings. Aliums rise up behind the front row. We can fill in the space with vegetables to decorate. The trees could be fruit trees. (You know that allergy sufferers would be happy to reduce the pollen count by getting rid of those male only trees).  I feel that an edible landscape would make the park more inviting.
    I know your objection: why should the city or county pay for this? Well, they should not have to pay, and there may be a solution where people will provide for the labor and costs: you make local residents responsible for the park. A master landscape plan does need to be developed, but sections of a garden bed could be given to a family who wishes to take responsibility for that bed.  The family tends the vegetables, which they can harvest for themselves. If a family does meet up to its responsibilities, then the plot can be given to another family. Well, maybe not families. The beds can be projects for schools in conjunction with senior citizen centers. They could be tended by a a club or other organization. Somewhere in the agreement will have to be that produce will be shared with food pantries. This is simply a rough sketch, but I imagine that you have the idea: we can create beauty while feeding those in need.

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This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at yourhoustonhomeinspector.com). For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank


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