Food for Change: 5 Food Groups Doing Great Work

Editor's note: Welcome to a new feature where we'll profile groups out there connecting people to better food access. They might be community gardens, service groups providing meals, farmers markets accepting EBT and WIC, and in this edition, even a 12-year-old baking birthday cakes for homeless shelters. In this series we want to applaud the passionate people and organizations doing meaningful work with food in their communities. Please share tips for others to include in this column in the comments below.


[Learn to garden with The Dinner Garden.]

  • Only 1% of Americans are farmers, and the average age of a farmer is about 60 years old. The Dinner Garden thinks that more of us should learn to grow food in our own backyards, so we can produce more sustainable food with almost no environmental impact. TDG sends free seeds to families around the country, and provides plenty of free materials on its website to help you get your garden started. They rely on donations from corporate sponsors and individuals to help them fund their seed distribution projects. There is currently a waiting list to receive seeds, but if you're a new gardener that might give you time to learn more about small-scale growing. The group's founder, Holly Hirshberg, was named a 2011 CNN Hero.
  • In Chef's Hands provides "food therapy" to individuals with physical disabilities, illness, and special needs. The group was founded by Scott Crane, a food lover whose muscular dystrophy prevented him from cooking or going to restaurants easily. He turned to a local chef for a cooking lesson that turned into a healing and empowering exercise for Crane. ICH pairs chefs in the Chicago area with disabled individuals so they can also have a one-on-one culinary experience. Volunteers and families assist in the cooking process. ICH hopes to expand beyond Chicago soon.
  • FareStart is a job training program for unemployed, homeless, formerly incarcerated, and otherwise disadvantaged individuals. The Seattle-based organization provides two training programs—a culinary training program for adults, and a barista program for youth. The culinary program is 16 weeks long, and participants attend classes full-time. They learn kitchen skills, receive employment counseling, and are given a strong support network of co-students and mentors. More than 750 people participate in FareStart training programs each year, and 80% of graduates are employed within 90 days of completing the training program. FareStart also runs a restaurant in downtown Seattle, staffed by program participants.
  • In Maricopa County, Arizona, the poverty rate is at 36%. It is estimated that nearly 1 in 5 children go to bed hungry every night. Waste Not works to alleviate this problem by transporting donated food to needy families and individuals around the County. WN transports nearly 6,000 pounds of food every day in their refrigerated trucks. The group receives donations from over 100 restaurants, cafes, churches, and schools, and the food is then delivered to dozens of shelters, food pantries, and community centers. They are always looking for volunteers to help transport food to those in need.
  • If any state is well-equipped to solve the country's agriculture crisis, it's California. Roots of Change, based in San Francisco, unites farmers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, and individual citizens to collaborate on planning a sustainable agricultural future for California. The group holds events, meets with legislators, and facilitates collaboration among stakeholders. ROC takes a broad look at what sustainability and progress mean in the realm of agriculture, and understands the necessity of including many interest groups in this conversation.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.