Food Gaps Hit Humboldt Children Hardest - Humboldt State Now

Food Gaps Hit Humboldt Children Hardest

Portions of Humboldt County need more food stores, expanded transportation and greater spending power to supply threatened families and children with adequate food and healthy choices, according to the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University.

The problem extends beyond children in particular Humboldt locales. Cost is an obstacle to fresh and healthy food county-wide and demand for food aid programs such as farmers’ market coupons exceeds supply, based on data in a new Community Food Assessment compiled by CCRP researchers.

Food infrastructure—stores and transportation systems—are simply lacking, the researchers found, and increased purchases from local agricultural producers could benefit consumers and farmers alike.

Southern Humboldt and Orick in the north stand out for high rates of food insecurity and poverty, according to the assessment. “Single parents with children are really the ones facing food shortages the most,” said Danielle Stubblefield, CCRP community food systems analyst. “We have about 12,000 individuals in Humboldt County enrolled in SNAP—previously the food stamp program—and nearly half of them are age 18 and younger.”

Humboldt County has many organizations dedicated to food system issues, from aid services to local farm advocacy. “The Community Food Assessment can be a resource for these organizations by providing hard data, identifying food system needs and helping target areas for change,” Stubblefield said.

Some small communities experience seasonal inconsistencies, but others regularly lack variety or quality at their local stores. In some Humboldt areas, fresh produce is flatly unavailable.

On the other hand, many alternative markets specialize in locally-grown fresh and healthy foods. Alternatives include on-site farm sales, farmers’ markets and community-supported agricultural groups that provide members weekly baskets of produce. These venues have the added benefit of helping local farmers and entrepreneurs to reinforce the county economy. The CCRP assessment identifies these markets’ locations and times of operation and those that accept federal aid purchases.

The study also identifies specific community needs, including more cooking and nutrition classes, greater availability of fruits and vegetables in schools and higher numbers of community gardens, buying clubs and cooperatives to stanch high prices.

The CCRP report also documents the need for better education. It quotes community members who warn that Humboldt residents make poor food choices with the scarce money they have.

Inevitably, ignorance transmits poor eating habits from parents to children. “‘Kids grow up eating potato chips and Twinkies and we need to grab those kids and bring them to the farm to teach them how to like eating healthy,’” one respondent told researchers.

Those interviewed also pointed out that some local stores are only one step up from a convenience store. “‘It’s hard to avoid processed foods and find fruits and vegetables in those places,’” another resident remarked.

“Food security is a complex issue,” agreed Dr. Sheila Steinberg, the CCRP’s director of community research. “This report sheds light on food issues and food access in our county and it has everything in one place—data, projects and programs. It is the most comprehensive and up-to-date information on rural food systems for our residents, and a great resource for those working toward positive social change in food security.”

Food policy information is available at www.humboldt.edu/~ccrp.