Healthy food is tougher to come by for poor people.
Researchers at Harvard University in 2013 found that “unhealthy diets may cost less because food policies have focused on the production of ‘inexpensive, high-volume’ commodities.” That research concluded that eating healthy vs. unhealthy is a difference of about $1.50 a day per person, the equivalent of around $2,190 per year for a family of four.
A collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and the Racine County Food Bank is making a dent in that.
From July through November, more than a half-ton of food was donated from Parkside’s campus garden to the Food Bank: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, squash, radishes, green beans, cabbage, the list goes on.
The Racine County Food Bank is in the process of getting more committed to providing fresh, healthy food to its clients.
Last year, the bank received a $60,000 grant from Healthier America’s Healthy Hunger Relief initiative, which was founded by former first lady Michelle Obama. One-third of that grant is being spent on expanded cooler space, for which the Food Bank had already set aside about $25,000, which can be used to store perishable items. The remaining $40,000 is to be spent over next couple years to purchase more fresh produce to fill those coolers with, according to Dan Taivalkoski, executive director of the Food Bank: “We’re going to be focusing on more nutritious product.”
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Typically, canned, nonperishable food items are easier for the Food Bank to store, transport and distribute. “But,” Taivalkoski noted, “the fresh stuff is better for you and much appreciated by the clients.”
The Food Bank already receives fresh food from the Racine Urban Garden Network, as well as the Teaching Garden next to the Food Bank at 2000 De Koven Ave. and the Garden of Giving led by UW-Extension’s master gardeners.
Parkside’s garden is tended both by students involved in the Parkside Environmental Club as well as locals who live nearby and lease their own plots. In 2021, the number of leased plots increased by four.
Throughout the summer, according to Parkside Associate Lecturer Julie Kinzelman, gardeners faced unusually high heat and received less rain than normal, but they adapted by growing extra okra and hot peppers.
“It has been very rewarding to be able to supplement food pantry, shelf-stable products with sustainable, locally sourced fresh vegetables from the UW-Parkside campus garden,” Kinzelman said in an email. “With donations from the Racine County Food Bank and the 18th Street Pick ‘n Save (in Kenosha), we were able to label and package the produce to make it easier for clients who come on foot or use public transportation to get their produce home in good condition.”
Taivalkoski estimated that the Food Bank has received some kind of fresh donations from Parkside every year for at least the past decade.
According to Parkside, this year’s produce donation was 1,019 pounds. That’s a 350-pound jump from 2020 when 669 pounds was donated, and a 367-pound increase from 2019 when 302 pounds was donated.
Next year, the campus garden’s growing period may be extended “by building cold frames and planting a second crop of cold tolerant plants like spinach, kale, and lettuce,” according to a release from the university, which continued: “Located behind Tallent Hall and next to the Student Health and Counselling Center, the Campus Garden has been able to provide vegetables for UW-Parkside and the surrounding community for the past several years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Campus Garden allows students, faculty, and staff to stay active since the plots enable participants to socially distance.”