Bringing in the Harvest

By Bill Bolling, Executive Director

“Eat your vegetables.”  It’s something we’ve all heard over and over while growing up.  And in my family’s case, we grew much of what we ate.  I still have strong images of my grandmother picking vegetables from the garden for that evening’s meal and bringing them into the house using her apron as the container.  I’m not sure why she didn’t use a bushel basket, which we had plenty of.  I think it was something to do with the precious cargo staying close to her and knowing that with just a touch of love and low heat she could offer her family the best meal possible.

With each generation, we pass on the same imperative – to eat your fruits and vegetables, stay healthy, and grow strong.  We know, and have known for a long time, that it’s good for us – good for our health and ability to learn and grow – to eat well. When everyone is fed in the family, there is a certain satisfaction and harmony that exists.

On a grander level, we know it’s good for the “soul” of a community to have an acknowledged commitment that no one will go hungry.  It reflects our character and values, and cuts across religious, political, and racial differences.   We know we have enough food, tools, know how, experience, leadership, and support to ensure that no one will go hungry.  The only question is do we have the will to make it happen?

At the Food Bank, we are doing some neat things – things that are making a difference, and most importantly, things that involve a lot of organizations and people in the process. (See our feature article on Page 8.)  We work with hundreds of community gardens, helping to actually start and maintain many of them.  Through our educational curriculum, we hold classes and work with schools and universities on programming and policy issues.  We glean from stores, farmers, gardens, restaurants, food shows, and special events to ensure that every pound of food finds a grateful home.  We help stretch people’s valuable dollars to buy more for less.  We work with a coalition of individuals and organizations to look at our food system, and figure out ways to access fresh, healthy, locally produced food.  We work hand in hand with the public sector at every level to make earned benefits more accessible and impactful.  We encourage, support, and reinforce best practices.  

But there are larger conversations going on at every level of community.  Conversations about how we grow our food, how we use our land, how we promote healthy eating and living, and how we can provide access to nutritious food for those most in need and least able to pay.  There are some very creative initiatives developing around farm to school programs that connect the farmer to the school, and ultimately to the students, to ensure much more nutritious meals that promote better health and learning.  There are more conversations about joining Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, buying seasonal food at farmers markets, and how we can teach the next generation the value of growing their own food.  There are new collaborations being developed to address food deserts –  places in our communities where people have no access to fresh and healthy food.  There are conversations going on in our schools and universities about what constitutes an effective public health program, and how we can combine the study of health with planning, land use, physical fitness, and public policy to create multi-disciplinary courses. 

I am happy to say that the Food Bank community is fully engaged in creating our shared future.  Rarely does a day go by that we aren’t meeting face-to-face with someone in our “extended family” – partner agencies, other Georgia food banks, gardeners, advocates, policy-makers, volunteers, donors, and more.  These meetings are often happening in our facility and facilitated by our staff. Just like a family coming together for dinner, we are all at the table, sharing ideas and making plans for the future.  In many ways the Food Bank community represents the “container” – the apron of old that fits it all nicely in and brings to the table a bountiful harvest – one that has room for traditional approaches, newer institutional initiatives and even cutting edge tools.

With a future that portends smaller government and less public wealth, we will all have to do much more for ourselves, whether we are a person in need or a person who wants to help.  Community members will have to get more involved in articulating what we want, how we wish to live our lives, and what we are willing to sacrifice.  It’s called the “social capital” of any community.  While things seem to be broken at the national level in addressing very difficult issues, this only reinforces that decisions made closer to the people are often better decisions.  Programs run by the private sector are often more accountable and participatory. 

We will see if the grand experiment will work – the assumption that private sector organizations can offer a better service for a cheaper price with more compassion and accountability.  We will see what containers will hold the ideas, visions, resources, and people to carry them out.  It’s an exciting time.  We only need to provide the nourishment and a safe place for our ideas to grow.

With each new season comes opportunity and hope.  With each new crop comes nourishment and strength.  With each new commitment comes a chance to address old problems in completely new ways.   The container is big enough to hold us all.  We need not be divided around this precious thing.

Bill Bolling