During the Thanksgiving holiday, many use the week to put their gratitude into action — volunteering, donating to their favorite causes and welcoming others in their homes for a bountiful meal and good company. For many, this includes gathering in our communities to prepare and pass out food to those who are less fortunate. This is certainly an effort worth applauding, as nearly 50 million Americans — including 16 million children — in the United States struggle with hunger. Food insecurity is indeed a national problem, but it disproportionately affects communities in large cities.
This leads me to wonder—how do we ensure that these philanthropic efforts around the holidays are not the only steps we are taking toward helping the vulnerable, but that we are instead building a network and food systems that provide good food for those that do not have access to fairly priced, healthy foods, year-round?
One of our core pillars at the Case Foundation is unleashing the power of entrepreneurship to address significant social challenges — and I believe that a business approach to addressing food insecurity in our country holds huge potential. Specifically, developing more urban farms in communities that don’t have easy access to fresh, affordable produce can offer a steady supply of fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Urban farms can leverage unused, often unsightly places within cities, thereby maximizing both the business and social good case. To be clear, what I am suggesting is not a community garden — these would be for-profit companies operating a business in areas of town that are currently lacking access to fresh and sustainable foods.
This admittedly isn’t an easy solution. Today, the barriers to entry might be too great for even a motivated entrepreneur to get started. Being a farmer is hard work and modern day agriculture has its own set of unique challenges. For example, the cost of land and access to electricity and water, fundamental needs when farming, can be prohibitive.
As citizens however, there are a number of things we can do to help make this a reality.
- For one, we can encourage public/private partnerships between city governments and individuals or companies who want to create an urban farm.
- Additionally, cities could provide under utilized land and create zoning laws that would allow for the farm’s food to be sold right on the premises. This would not only create more financial upside for the farmers, but could increase access and exposure to “where food comes from” for the customers.
- City governments can not only help promote and encourage citizens to visit and purchase food, they can also become customers of the farms for some of their own food needs — including for public school meals, giving kids access to both healthy and truly local foods.
- To help ease the barriers to entry for farmers, cities can also provide desirable financial assistance in the form of rebates, grants, tax breaks and more to help make starting up and running an urban farm less of a burden. The goal here would not be for cities to entirely finance urban farms, but for cities to be catalysts early on to get businesses that provide long-term benefits for their community up and running. The upfront capital is tough for new farmers, but once these farms are working, they can pursue more traditional forms of financing that will allow them to provide fairly priced, healthy foods all year.
This holiday season, let’s keep up the tradition of showing our gratitude by giving back, and giving others the opportunity to enjoy the bounty of a Thanksgiving meal. But let’s also think about what we can do to create a long-term, sustainable solution — unleashing the power of entrepreneurship — to make sure that all people have access to quality, healthy and sustainable foods year-round.