On the surface, food insecurity and food waste seem to be antithetical to each other. But after becoming a regular volunteer at the Baltimore Free Farm, Matthew Burke learned how both issues intersect and are plaguing Baltimore city.
“There’s a lot of people in our communities who are forced to buy overpriced, unhealthy, processed foods from gas stations and take-out restaurants. There’s no nutritious food here. Meanwhile, just miles away from any of these neighborhoods there’s a high volume of wasted food,” says Burke.
For approximately 150,000 people throughout Baltimore, healthy foods are out of reach, says Burke. Yet 40-percent of all food in the United States is thrown away before consumers have the option to purchase it. It’s no coincidence that those living in food deserts – areas without access to healthy food — have disproportionally higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and learning disabilities.
“When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from and you don’t have access to healthy, filling meals on a regular basis, there are numerous ways that can affect your physical and mental health,” says Burke.
As an OSI-Baltimore Community Fellow, Burke, 29, will expand and refine the Baltimore Free Farm Food Rescue by establishing a network of 12 food give-away sites at local businesses, churches and community centers throughout Baltimore that will distribute free, nutritious and repurposed food.
The Baltimore Free Farm is an established Baltimore collective of gardeners and activists who aim to provide access to healthy food for all. Every Wednesday and Thursday volunteers go to various produce distributors and grocers to “rescue” distressed goods – items too ripe to sell or just past their expiration date. The food is then redistributed to neighborhoods impacted by food insecurity.
The food give-away model is simple and it works. “By distributing repurposed food to under-served communities, we avoid putting perfectly good food into landfills to rot,” says Burke.
Currently, Baltimore Free Farm has two distribution sites in Hampden and Reservoir Hill. In partnership with growingSOUL – a nonprofit dedicated to creating a sustainable, zero waste food system – Burke will establish 10 additional distribution sites in communities across Baltimore, focusing on low-income areas with the highest rates of food insecurity.
In addition to establishing food give-away sites, Burke will manage and train the growing network of volunteers, organize food preparation classes, expand donations for increased variety of food and plan educational seminars on a wide range of food justice related topics.
“When you give someone healthy food, you nourish their entire person, not just their body. That’s exactly what this fellowship is about – nourishing under-served communities in Baltimore and bridging the gap of food insecurity,” says Burke. “The food give-away events demonstrate the small acts of kindness the world needs right now.”
Because of the OSI-Baltimore fellowship, Burke will be able to work on this project full time. “I never expected that my passion could be my job – but that’s exactly what this fellowship has given me. Not only does it actualize the work I’ve done the past six years, but it empowers me to provide the tools to bridge Baltimore communities.”