On Thursday, many of us will gather with our families and enjoy a nourishing Thanksgiving meal bursting with love. We’ll express thanks for the hands that prepared the food, toiling over stovetops and tending to perfectly roasted turkeys. We’ll thank the person that dragged the extra chair up from the basement, or the person who volunteered to make the trip to the store for that bag of ice. But we should also remember to thank the farmer who, without their great commitment of mind, body and soul to their work, would leave us without beautiful food to prepare.
In my role as an educator, each year around this time I try to feature a “food system story” in my lessons. The goal is to help children understand and gain an appreciation for the many hands that bring a meal to our table — from seed to plate (or cafeteria tray, as the case may be). Several years ago, while teaching this lesson to a class of kindergarteners at Central Lake Elementary, I was confronted with just how drastically the story of preparing a simple meal for your family can vary from household to household.
“That one’s the food pantry!” said Dylan, pointing to a drawing I was asking a small group of 4-5 year olds to identify. Dylan (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) was referring to the piece of the food system story I presented as the link between producers and consumers, or “where you go to get your food”. Dylan’s candor in referring to the food pantry as “where you go to get your food” immediately struck a chord. It was clear that in the eyes of this child, getting the majority of his groceries from the local food pantry was simply a fact of life.
In the years since that lesson, I have seen communities across northwest Michigan come together to ensure that the most vulnerable among us have access to the incredible bounty of fresh, local, healthful food our community so ably produces. Local organizations like the Father Fred Foundation have made access to healthy food a focal point of their organization, and high-need schools across the state are reporting that thanks to initiatives like Michigan’s 10 Cents a Meal program — which was pioneered by the Groundwork Center — schoolchildren have better access to healthy, local food than ever before.
This year when I sit down to dine and give thanks with my family, I’ll put aside the temptation to engage in heated political debates and focus on the things that matter locally — moving forward together to make our community the best place it can possibly be, for all.
For more information on the Father Fred Foundation’s commitment to serving fresh, local food contact Operations Director Les Hagaman. For more information on Michigan’s 10 Cents a Meal initiative, contact Groundwork Center senior policy specialist Diane Conners. And for more on how the Groundwork Center is working to link access to healthy food in food pantries to farm to school programs, contact McDermott.
Meghan McDermott is a policy specialist at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org