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Food insecurity during a pandemic: grow a garden

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African Americans are more likely to struggle with poverty and food insecurity than any other demographic. A pandemic exacerbates the threat of hunger and the lack of access to healthy foods, widening the food accessibility gap. 

Local experts suggest growing your own food may help reduce food insecurity. Tyler Gough, farm manager for Indy Urban Acres, said the farm sells plants to help people start their own gardens. To combat hunger, for 20 years, Indy Urban Acres has been donating 100% of its produce to local food pantries and offers “veggie boxes” so Indianapolis residents in need get access to fresh produce.

“This is something that we’ve been working on, because the need is there,” Gough said. “It’s not getting any better. A lot of people in Indianapolis don’t have access to healthy food, so we encourage people to grow their own. Especially right now.”

By growing produce at home, individuals can drastically decrease the number of trips to grocery stores. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges people to stay inside as much as possible to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“When the farm is going full steam ahead, the stuff that’s supplemented at the grocery store is very limited,” Gough said. “You can grow a full meal at home. Also, the mental health benefits of being outside in a garden is an added plus.”

Beyond helping you stay indoors during a pandemic, growing your own garden can have economic benefits in the long run. 

“You can buy a tomato plant for $5, and that’s expensive,” Gough said. “Let’s just say that’s the high end. That plant will give you 20 to 30 pounds of tomatoes, and you’d pay $4 for a pound of tomatoes at the store. So that’s $5 for $80 worth of tomatoes.” 

And meals incorporating fruits and vegetables come with obvious health benefits. 

According to Dr. Palmer MacKie, an internist at Eskenazi Health, substituting meat with plant-based products can significantly enhance your lifespan. 

“For every five or 10% animal protein that you get rid of and substitute plant, there’s a mortality benefit,” MacKie said. “Even getting rid of one plateful of meat offers a benefit.”

MacKie recommends a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for his patients and touts the medical benefits. According to MacKie, adopting a vegetarian diet can prevent and even reverse diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

There are many benefits to starting your own garden, and according to Gough, Hoosiers are starting to get the message. Indy Urban Acres’ plant sale — their biggest annual fundraiser to raise money for the farm — has gotten huge support in the past few weeks, in part because Gough believes people are more interested in starting their own garden. 

“I haven’t seen a need like this through all my years working in food access,” he said. “People are out of work, can’t get to the store, and maybe things that are affordable aren’t in stock. We’re looking for ways to help as many people as we can.” 

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

Start your garden! 

Indy Urban Acres is selling plants online through May 12. The first date for pickup is April 14. For more information, visit indyparksfoundation.org.

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