Over 1 million Missourians experience some level of food insecurity and the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri is looking to do something about it. Through MU's Grow Well Missouri Project, people enrolled in Missouri's Food Bank program can receive fruit and vegetable seeds and transplants along with their monthly package of food.
I spoke with Project Coordinator Bill McKelvey about how families who use the food pantry can improve their diets by growing any of the 20 varieties of fruits and vegetables provided by Grow Well Missouri.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.
Missouri is ranked 7th in the country for food insecurity by the USDA. Is food insecurity a problem in our state?
If you look back over the past 10 years, rates of food insecurity have gone up more in Missouri than they have in any other state. Missouri also has the second highest rate of very low food security and that's defined by the USDA as families or individuals having to do without food at certain times during the year, make very drastic changes to their diet just in order to have enough to eat. And so that trend is very disturbing in Missouri.
Apart from increasing the amount of food they have, why is it important that food pantry clients have better access to fresh fruits and vegetables?
One of the things we've found through the research of the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security is that people who are using food pantries tend to have higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and those are all things that are diet-related in part. In order to try to make a difference with some of those chronic conditions, we feel like it's necessary to help people have more access to fresh fruits and vegetables, whether they're getting them through the pantry or through their home gardens or through other means as well.
Grow Well Missouri provides information and instruction on how to care for these plants while they are growing, but how do participants know what to do with their new pro duce when harvest comes around?
Well I think as a general rule across all segments of our population, a lot of people have lost the skill to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables and everybody in general has kind of gone more towards convenience foods. So one thing we do is we've started to provide different recipes that would enable people to prepare fruits and vegetables in very kind of simple and quick ways.
Why is producing their own food important to food pantry clients?
You know one the things we find is that with gardening, not only are you able to produce healthy food for yourself, in which case you’re improving your nutrition and your diet, but you're able to also have some pride and satisfaction in growing your own food. We find that with gardening, it produces a lot of benefits in addition to just helping people have better diets and so self-sufficiency plays into that. You feel good about yourself because you've grown some food and you’re providing food for yourself or your friends or your family.