FLORIDA HUNGER PROJECT’S MISSION IS TO CREATE EFFICIENT, EFFECTIVE, AND NUTRIENT-RICH SOLUTIONS FOR REDUCING HUNGER IN COMMUNITIES THROUGHOUT FLORIDA AND BEYOND.
FLORIDA HUNGER PROJECT ENVISIONS A WORLD WHERE PEOPLE OF ALL INCOME LEVELS AND GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS HAVE EQUITABLE ACCESS TO NUTRIENT-RICH FOOD
THE PROBLEM WITH FOOD
Food is not only the most basic of human needs, it is also one of the bases upon which all other facets of life are built. It is impossible to focus on obtaining safe housing and creating successful educational and vocational environments if people in the community do not have access to enough nutrition to allow them to function at a satisfactory, if not optimal, level.
“Of Florida’s 7.8 million households (21.2 million people), 13% earn below the Federal Poverty Level. While those families certainly struggle, they are not the only ones who do. There is another group of people who are technically above the Federal Poverty Level but by no means have the funds to get by in our community. Defined by United Way’s ALICE Report (an acronym for families who are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), these households are working and working hard, but still struggling to make ends meet.” (2020 ALICE Report)
In DeSoto, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties’ households, 12% earn below the Federal Poverty Level and another 31% classified as ALICE. This means that 557,372 households in our community are struggling just to get by.
Some families have to choose between paying bills and buying food. It is easy to assume that food would come first. But if faced with eviction, a single mom may choose rent over food, knowing that her children will at least get one meal at school. But even that school meal that could once be counted upon is no longer guaranteed during this year-long time of the coronavirus pandemic, and children too young for school are left without a safety net.
We’ve all rushed out of the house without eating breakfast, and when 10 o’clock rolls around and your coffee cup is empty, focusing becomes difficult and your stomach starts voicing its opinion… yet it’s too early for lunch.
Some people have this feeling every day and are missing more than just one meal. The more meals they miss, the more severe hunger affects their minds and bodies.
Malnourishment can cause mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The inability to feed yourself and your loved ones can have traumatic effects on a person’s mental health.
The effects on children are devastating, having a strong impact on brain development, in some cases even causing permanent brain damage. In school, 50% of children facing hunger will need to repeat a grade. It’s hard to concentrate in school when you’re hungry. Roaring stomachs cause children to be cranky, hyperactive or lethargic, and sometimes even aggressive. These behavioral issues can distract kids from their schoolwork, leading to developmental delays and learning disabilities. The outward signs that a child’s difficulty in the classroom is related to the fact that they are struggling with hunger can often be hard for teachers and caregivers to identify.
Hunger and malnourishment weaken the immune system, leaving people more vulnerable to infections and illnesses such as the flu and coronavirus.
Lack of proper nutrients can cause many chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, fatigue, digestive conditions, and many more. According to the USDA, there is a strong connection between hunger and these chronic diseases.
Even short term battles with conditions such as fatigue can have unexpected consequences such as accidents at work or home and possible injuries… leading to a domino effect of potential missed workdays, medical bills, and financial struggles.
Many low-income or food insecure families not only lack funds to afford healthy foods, but are often faced with geographical and transportation-based lack of access to foods that are nutritious. Quality grocery stores are frequently located outside zones that are characterized by low incomes, creating food deserts that feed the cycle of hunger in the families trying to survive within the zone. The retail grocery store business is highly competitive and decisions on new store locations are made using profit-predicting algorithms.
According to the USDA, “Relative to all other census tracts (areas of land), food desert tracts tend to have smaller populations, higher rates of abandoned or vacant homes, and residents who have lower levels of education, lower incomes, and higher unemployment. Census tracts with higher poverty rates are more likely to be food deserts than otherwise similar low-income census tracts in rural and in very dense (highly populated) urban areas. For less dense urban areas, census tracts with higher concentrations of minority populations are more likely to be food deserts.”
Green is defined as a low-income tract with at least 500 people, or 33 percent of the population, living more than 1 mile (urban areas) or more than 10 miles (rural areas) from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store.
Orange is defined as a low-income tract with at least 500 people, or 33 percent of the population, living more than ½ mile (urban areas) or more than 10 miles (rural areas) from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store.
When faced with lack of access and not enough funds, most families must choose full bellies over nutritional content. Carbohydrates and sugars make a person feel fuller, and are less expensive. Therefore, fewer dollars stretch to more meals. Eating healthy is an expensive proposition, and it's an option that low-income families don’t have the luxury of choosing.
Having access to and eating nutritious food should not be a luxury. Feeding your children food that contains the vitamins and minerals they need to focus at school shouldn’t be considered an extravagance. That is where Florida Hunger Project comes in.
Florida Hunger Project's Solution
The planning and infrastructure-building phase of FHP began before the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic - because the level of food insecurity experienced by many in our community is great. The pandemic, and the resulting economic hardship of individuals, families, and small businesses, has made the need for equitable access to nutritious foods even more urgent.
What is Urban Farming?
SMALL PLOTS OF LAND, ROOFTOPS, AND INDOOR SPACES IN CITIES ACROSS THE WORLD ARE UTILIZED TO GROW FRESH VEGETABLES
Urban farming of green vegetables is at the core of FHP's model for addressing hunger.
Using artificial light fixtures, the most common and efficient indoor farming takes place in warehouses or shipping containers. The land for our first container farm has been secured and is ready for construction. This indoor farm will produce 450 pounds of vegetables per month.
The containers are retrofitted to operate as solar-powered urban farms. Paired with its solid structure, this makes these units immune to power outages and weather events, and significantly reduces the farms’ carbon footprints. They can be set up almost anywhere and easily relocated if necessary.
Florida Hunger Project will focus on growing Pea Shoots. Pea Shoots’ time from planting to harvest is 7 to 10 days, resulting in the ability to grow large quantities in short periods of time. They are a hearty microgreen that is resistant to the typical issues that can arise in container farming and have a shelf life of 1-2 weeks, making them ideal for distribution through local partners to families in need.
"We are excited to see this project grow, as the need for fresh produce for those with food insecurity is high. We support Florida Hunger Project and hope you will too."
- Ben Herring, Food Bank Program Coordinator at St. Pete Free Clinic
Why Concentrate on Growing Microgreens?
“The present study determined the concentrations of essential vitamins A, C, E, and K1 in 25 commercially available microgreens. Results showed that different microgreens provide widely varying amounts of the four vitamins, but regardless they generally have significantly higher concentrations of these nutrients in comparison with mature leaves from the same plant species. These nutrient data provide the first scientific basis for evaluating nutritional benefits of microgreens and, when included in the USDA food composition database, can be used by health agencies and consumers to make educated choices about inclusion of microgreens as part of a healthy diet.”
Community Outreach & Food Drives
In addition to farming, Florida Hunger Project will add food drives to our work so that we can diversify the food we supply to include non-perishables, dried fruits and vegetables, oils and condiments. We have established relationships with local food banks to achieve a wide distribution network for both the microgreens and non-perishables, delivering healthy food to where it is needed most.
Through community outreach we will:
Create public awareness of food insecurity.
Create awareness among those with food insecurity that they have access to food banks and how to overcome shame or embarrassment when accessing these resources.
Offer free workshops to teach both adults and children how to grow microgreens.
Create a growing network of volunteers.
Florida Hunger Project is beginning the process of building relationships that will help secure a location for the first container, such as a local plot of land or section of a parking lot. The first container will be located in Pinellas County; future container farms are planned to expand throughout the Tampa Bay area.
FHP is currently evaluating areas of greatest need and forming the partnerships necessary for appropriate distribution of the servings of microgreens. Such partners will include but not be limited to food banks, faith-based food pantries, day care centers, and community centers located in food deserts.
Food pantries help people enormously, but they don’t always have fresh, nutrient-rich foods available, because perishable items are difficult to store and to distribute quickly. FHP will be able to supplement and enhance what food banks can offer to provide more balanced nutrition for people who are food insecure.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
With your help, Florida Hunger Project will supplement existing food distribution networks to include fresh microgreens for people in Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay area. More nutrients from high-quality food leads to better health for families and improved ability to concentrate at school for children. Microgreens allow families the ability to do more with less; a small amount of microgreens means a more vitamin-rich diet for people without easy access to healthy foods.
Help us improve the health and wellbeing of our community
Will children eat microgreens?
Brendan Hart, founder and director of Florida Hunger Project, is dedicated to the mission of providing healthy fresh vegetables to those with food insecurity. With 13 years experience in farming and gardening, Brendan has the knowledge and skills to produce quality fresh vegetables both outdoors under the sun and indoors under artificial light.
Born and raised outside of Boston, Brendan earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts. His community service experience includes working with MASSPIRG, the San Francisco Tenant’s Union, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America where he earned Big Brother of the Year in Lawrence, Ma. in 1998.
Outside of work, you can find him paddle boarding, scuba diving, playing fetch with his dogs, or playing drums.
Florida Hunger Project, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, donations to which are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law. A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE WITHIN THE STATE 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) OR VISITING FDAC.gov . REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE. CH63121