[Excerpt from feature article by Jodie Mozdzer Gil, March 11, 2020]
In cities throughout Connecticut, urban farms and community gardens are sprouting up to address a significant health challenge: Many people don’t have access to enough food or access to healthy food.
About 13% of Connecticut residents said they did not have enough money to pay for food at least once in the previous year, according to the most recent Community Wellbeing Survey conducted by DataHaven in 2018.
Black and Hispanic residents were more likely to struggle, with 23% and 28%, respectively, reporting food insecurity. In several cities, about a quarter of all residents struggle to pay for food.
Urban residents are also less likely to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the survey. Statewide, about 72% said they had excellent or good access to produce, while the rates were only 56% in New Haven and 51% in Hartford and Bridgeport.
Studies have linked food insecurity to higher rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes—as well as higher health care costs.
Martha Page, the executive director of Hartford Food System, says helping people become self-sufficient is a first step. She noted that a decrease in food insecurity in Hartford, from 33% in 2015 to 23% in 2018 according to the DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey, followed decreased unemployment in the city over the same period.
“At the end of the day, the best thing that can be done for most people from a health perspective as it relates to food, is they have to be able to afford the food that will make them healthy,” Page said.
She has hope despite data showing continued lack of access in cities.
“You have a right to access healthy food in your neighborhood or within easy reach,” Page said. “More people are thinking about it, and more people are arriving at the notion of food justice and food democracy. That was not a concept that we even talked about when I started this job. More people know what it means when your community is a food desert. I think that’s progress.”