On October 16th and 17th of 2019, food systems leaders across the state of Florida convened in Orlando at the Block by Block: Building Food Secure Communities in Florida event. In an effort to transform the health system, Florida Blue and GuideWell Innovation hosted the event in recognition of the importance of access to wholesome food for health and the innovative, local efforts tackling food insecurity.
GuideWell Innovation hosted a statewide Wellbeing Challenge in order to help combat food insecurity in Florida, where 17 percent of the population is affected, and bring viable solutions to the table. The Challenge began over the summer and narrowed down twelve finalists to present their food insecurity solutions at the Orlando Block by Block event, for a US$20,000 prize. Each organization gave a five-minute pitch, highlighting the work they are doing to address four focus areas: availability, access, utilization, and resilience.
Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg opened the second day as the keynote speaker, addressing the issues and solutions to food insecurity. Bringing in a note of positivity, Nierenberg shared an epiphany of coming across hope in places that may seem hopeless, due to ongoing conflict, poverty, or natural disasters. “But these are the places that are often full of inspiration because this is where you find the people who refuse to be a victim of their circumstances, and who find ways to grow despite their challenges.”
As a Missouri native, Nierenberg touched on her upbringing in a small farm town, the rich cultural traditions she experienced living in the South, and the influence they have had on her lifelong commitment of sharing the solutions farmers are coming up with all over the world. “I think it is so important to remind people across the country how important the South and Florida’s agriculture and farming sector is to what all of us eat every day,” says Nierenberg.
Reminding the attendees of the urgency of their work, Nierenberg pointed out the “elephant in the room”—climate change—and four important solutions and pieces of the food system fabric. According to Nierenberg, the key ways of building food security involve implementing regenerative agriculture to help improve the composition of soils, preventing food loss and food waste, recognizing the role of appropriate technology for food systems, and uplifting women and youth in agriculture.
The twelve finalists covered a number of focus areas, from improving food security for seniors to helping people grow food in their front yards to utilizing advanced food container technology for the prevention of food loss. Of the twelve organizations that competed in The Challenge, Foodery Farms earned the US$20,000 prize in their name. Based in Jacksonville, FL, their model converts brownfields in food insecure communities to largely solar-powered and controlled environments that produce pesticide-free, hydroponically-grown fresh food year-round.
The remainder of the two-day event involved a tour of mobile pantries, a roundtable discussion on current efforts working to scale-up local/national access to food, in addition to workshops to help further the conversation around the causes and solutions to food insecurity. Penny Shaffer, the South Florida Market President for Florida Blue and moderator for the roundtable discussion, provided the attendees with a new perspective on their work and roles in the food community, “You are all the warriors, the fight is outside.”
Nierenberg set up a lasting motivation for the attendees fighting what may seem to be an uphill battle—highlighting prominent local examples, such as Waste Not Florida and the Florida Food Policy Council, as well as global examples, such as Prolinnova, who are embracing indigenous knowledge across Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. “I was watching young people, the student strikers, and leaders like Greta Thunberg remind us all of our duty to protect not only our climate but our environment and our food systems for future generations. And because of these young people, I can’t lose hope and neither can you,” says Nierenberg.