As many gather in Des Moines for the World Food Prize this week, it's a good time to consider the irony of rural hunger in America - where food is all around but out of reach for many of our neighbors. Many of the people who work the land that feeds the world and provides low-cost, wholesome food for American consumers can't afford a meal for their own families. All the while, we see legislators that are threatening the very programs that help feed our most vulnerable citizens.
This editorial piece was originally published in the Des Moines Register on Tuesday, October 15.
It may seem like a paradox, but in the land of plenty, more than plenty are in need. In America today, 49 million people struggle with hunger—including 16 million children and 3 million seniors. Your neighbor, coworker or even a close friend may be wondering where they will find their next meal.
As many gather in Des Moines for the World Food Prize this week, it's a good time to consider the irony of rural hunger in America - where food is all around but out of reach for many of our neighbors. Many of the people who work the land that feeds the world and provides low-cost, wholesome food for American consumers can't afford a meal for their own families.
All the while, we see legislators that are threatening the very programs that help feed our most vulnerable citizens. Last month, the House of Representatives passed legislation cutting $40 billion over the next 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, commonly known as food stamps. This legislation, if passed, will cause millions - including thousands of Iowans - to see their benefits reduced or lost entirely. It will also cause hundreds of thousands of children to lose access to free lunch at school.
When cuts are made to federal nutrition programs, charities are left to fill the gap. Feeding America does everything it can to make sure no one goes hungry, but charity alone cannot fill a $40 billion hole. The need resulting from SNAP cuts will be particularly hard to fill in rural America. In addition to having disproportionately high rates of hunger and poverty, rural America poses a unique set of challenges in getting food to people in need. Delivery, donation and distribution obstacles abound and the stigma of seeking help is greater.
We have seen pockets of hope. Here in Des Moines, the Food Bank of Iowa, a Feeding America member food bank, feeds thousands of Iowans through its 285 partner agencies in 42 counties across the state. We've also seen the support that many farmers - including here in Iowa - have shown through the Invest An Acre program, an innovative way that farmers can feed their neighbors through Feeding America food banks.
The program is designed to address barriers to solving rural hunger by channeling the productivity and generosity of local farmers. It allows farmers to invest a portion of their proceeds into feeding people in their own communities. On average, every bushel of corn can help secure 18 meals and a bushel of soybeans can help secure up to 40 meals for people facing hunger. Last year, the first year of the program, the equivalent of 3.6 million meals were made available to rural families.
However, Invest an Acre or the local food bank can never make up for the damage done by $40 billion in SNAP cuts, but it can make a significant difference in the lives of millions. If you are in agriculture, I encourage you to learn more about the program at InvestAnAcre.org. For those of you who aren't farmers, there is a great deal you can do to fight hunger as well — including contacting your congressperson and asking them not to cut SNAP. Visit feedingamerica.org to learn more.
Working together with government, businesses, charities and individuals, we can solve hunger. We can make sure that across America—in big towns and small—every person has enough to eat. Do what you can to make sure your neighbor doesn't go hungry.