According to the Montgomery County Food Plan released in spring 2017, food insecurity – that is, not being sure where your next meal will come from – affects 70,000 people in the County. We have many groups working to provide emergency food and nutrition education to our community members, and these resources are a critical first line of defense. At the same time, a healthy and fair food system that protects people and planet means we have to think of County residents as more than food consumers. We must be actively engaging our community members as farmers, food business owners, and experts on different healthy food cultures from around the world. In a County with so many resources, no one should ever go hungry.
To provide food for all in Montgomery County, we need:
Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve is a treasure in the DC metro area. Our decision to limit development and preserve the rural character of this part of our County not only has wonderful environmental benefits, but also means that we have a unique opportunity to grow local food for our residents. We need to support the continuation of a strong agricultural economy in the County by not only supporting existing farm businesses, but also helping new farm businesses to start and grow. We need to reinvigorate and expand the County’s New Farmer Project and provide more support for services that match farmers to farmland owners. And we need to emphasize access to these resources for farmers who face significant barriers to starting their business due to income, race and ethnicity, and language, so that our farm entrepreneurs and the food they produce represent the diversity of our County.
In addition to expanding access to farming in the Agricultural Reserve, we need to promote growing food in more urban areas of the County. County residents should know how they can benefit from the County’s zoning laws and urban farming tax credit if they want to grow food on their property. We also need to expand the number of Montgomery Parks community gardens available to residents in order to meet the high demand for urban growing space – and again, we need to make sure that people with low incomes, people of color, and immigrants have equitable access to garden space.
Farming is just the start of a strong food economy. We also need people who are making, distributing and selling the delicious food they create from raw ingredients. We need better support from agencies in the County for cottage food entrepreneurs – people who want to make safe food products in their homes and sell them at farmers markets and other venues. For food entrepreneurs who want to make a wider range of products or produce at a larger scale, we need resources like the Crossroads Community Food Network’s Microenterprise Training Program and Community Kitchen. And we must continue to support the diverse food retail businesses across our County with access to capital, training, and good infrastructure that helps them to thrive and grow.
In the County’s Food Plan, one issue that stands out is the difficulty residents face accessing food assistance services that match their language, cultural diet, and religious restrictions. The County must support food assistance providers to develop materials and programs that will adequately serve immigrant residents, residents with limited English skills, and residents who follow special religious dietary practices. In addition, the County should develop partnerships among health care providers, social service providers, food assistance providers and community advocates to improve cultural competency and knowledge of available resources when it comes to culturally appropriate food.
Providing food assistance is an important start to addressing food insecurity – but it is only a start. To truly ensure that we provide food for all in Montgomery County, we need an economy that values its workers and makes sure everyone shares in the benefits of economic development. We need safe, healthy and affordable housing to be available across the County. We need reliable, efficient, convenient and affordable public transportation that covers all the areas of the County that need it. And we need to ensure that everyone who lives and works in our County can do so free from hate, fear, mistreatment, and prejudice. It’s not enough to feed hungry people – we have to address what causes them to be hungry in the first place.