Did you know that 1 in 7 Americans live in food-insecure households? That means that 41.2 million people - including 6.5 million children - struggle to get enough to eat on a consistent basis.

Did you know that 1 in 7 Americans live in food-insecure households? That means that 41.2 million people - including 6.5 million children - struggle to get enough to eat on a consistent basis.

Food insecurity refers to the lack of reliable access to safe, nutritional food due to limited money and other resources.  Not surprising, families living in low-income communities are at a greater risk for experiencing food insecurity.

That’s due to several reasons, according to the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). Those living in low-income neighborhoods typically:

  • Lack access to full-service grocery stores and farmers’ markets.
  • Don’t have and use their own vehicle for their regular food shopping.
  • Can’t afford to purchase healthy food on their limited budget.
  • Have better access to fast food restaurants.

In either case, these families are less likely to consume high-quality fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutrient-dense foods. Instead, they’ll opt for foods with lower nutritional value - like refined grains, added sugars and fats - that are filling, less expensive and readily available.

Effects of Food Insecurity on Children

Children who don’t get enough to eat are at a serious disadvantage. Studies show that food insecurity negatively affects children’s academic performance, social-emotional development and overall well-being.

An early research study found that children and teenagers who experience food insecurity are more likely to:

  • Have low test scores.
  • Repeat a grade.
  • Experience developmental delays.
  • Be suspended from school.
  • Have difficulty getting along with others.

Children facing food insecurity usually don’t have the proper energy and fuel they need to learn and grow each day. In addition, they’re also at a greater risk for iron-deficiency anemia, asthma and chronic illness like hypertension and diabetes. Some even experience depression and anxiety due to their lack of food.

Why Teach Urban Farming?

It’s a proven fact that children who are familiar with growing their own food tend to eat more fruits and vegetables. Urban farming builds on that by teaching children modern farming practices in order to grow their own fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.

Through urban farming, children who experience food insecurity have an opportunity to explore the variety of fruits and vegetables available and their health benefits. They also develop healthy eating habits that they carry home to their families and that last into adulthood. Just as important, they become ambassadors of food justice by advocating for better access to healthy, affordable food in their communities.

Urban Farming in Afterschool Programs

Afterschool programs are playing an active role in introducing urban farming to children in low-income communities. To recognize National Nutrition Month, we’ve highlighted three programs that are committed to inspiring children to live healthy, thriving lives through urban farming:

Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project

Located in East Oakland, CA, Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project (ANV) launched in 2010 to effect positive change in a community considered a “food desert” by the USDA.

The nonprofit offers afterschool programs, camps and monthly farm days for children in grades K-8. The programs are designed to “elevate life in the inner-city by challenging oppressive dynamics and environments through urban farming.” This is achieved by deepening children’s understanding of nutrition, food production and healthy living as well as strengthening their ties to the community.

Children in the ANV program plan, plant, harvest and sell produce on the ¼-acre farm. All proceeds go into individual savings accounts for participants.

Not only do children grow and eat their organically grown produce from the farm.  ANV also helps them:

  • Gain skills to help cook healthy meals at home.
  • Engage in the arts, cultural programs and outdoor activities.
  • Steward local green spaces.
  • Gain vocational skills as they market and sell produce.

Learn more about ANV and their mission at anvfarm.org.

 

Windy City Harvest Youth Farm

Focused on sustainable urban agriculture and social-emotional principles, Windy City Harvest Youth Farm educates and employs teens from low-income communities. With three farm sites in Chicago, IL, the program creates a “safe space” where teens learn - and earn - through sustainable growing, healthy cooking and eating, farm-stand selling and community service.

Since 2003, Youth Farm students have harvested and sold more than 100,000 pounds of freshly grown produce at farm stands and in neighborhoods identified as food deserts. Through the program, students also learn to:

  • Work as a team.
  • Advocate for food justice.
  • Eat in a healthy way.
  • Be accountable for others.

 

And the program has seen great success. Youth Farm participants are more likely to graduate high school, pursue secondary education and obtain jobs in Chicago’s urban agriculture and local food industry.

Visit the program website to learn more about Windy City Harvest Youth Farm and its impact on the community.

 

Harlem Grown

Founded in 2011, Harlem Grown was created to inspire children to lead healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability and nutrition.

The program spans across eight locations in Harlem, NY. Each site serves children ages 5-11, where they learn to compost, grow organic produce, utilize rainwater for drip irrigation and even raise chickens.

The program’s mission goes beyond increasing access to healthy food for Harlem residents. It also aims to create sustainable change in the community through mentorship, job training and partnerships.

Learn more about Harlem Grown and how you can get involved at harlemgrown.org.

You, too, can promote healthy eating in your afterschool program. Begin by introducing your students to different types of fruits and vegetables. This “From Farm to Table” book series explores the variety of fruits and vegetables with rich photographs and illustrations. Then, check out our resources for starting your own garden, including these organic vegetables and kid-friendly garden tools

The ultimate goal is to make sure all children have access to safe, healthy food and learn healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.