Feeney Farm: A New Local Model to Address Hunger & Health for Those In Need
For anyone who has ever wondered if they can make a difference in the world, Fairfield County resident Margaret Feeney exemplifies the positive impact and possibilities of one individual choosing to take action. Though news stories tell of millions of people around the world unable to afford food, and how malnutrition is on the rise, we often see this problem as one of other nations not affecting our region. Yet, according to Margaret, local statistics show "Hunger and food insecurity are more prevalent than we realize in Connecticut. One out of seven of our neighbors do not know where their next meal is coming from.” These numbers include those affected by such strains as unemployment, underemployment, and poverty. Seeking to diminish this statewide problem, Margaret founded Feeney Farm, a 501(c)(3) organization whose vision is “to create a consistent supply of healthy food for Connecticut families in need, alleviating hunger and decreasing the occurrence of chronic diseases linked to food insecurity.” By working with local farms, schools and corporations to create a system that increases supplies at food banks and community programs, Feeney Farm addresses and reduces food insecurity in this region.
"Food insecurity” refers to limited or uncertain access to the nutritious provisions necessary for a healthy lifestyle. Occupants in households that are food-insecure may live in hunger or fear of starvation. The mental and physical changes that accompany stress and inadequate nutrition can have harmful effects on development, productivity, physical and psychological health, and family life. Factors such as inconsistent eating patterns (e.g.: starvation-binge cycles), inability to obtain nutrient-dense foods (such as fruits and vegetables), and the need to resort to inexpensive, calorie-laden cuisine as the only affordable source for fighting hunger can cause severe problems. Among these is that food insecurity increases a person's risk for substantial and chronic health problems like heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer. Additionally, those living in poverty tend to have difficulty securing quality health care. Without altering this increasing pattern of food insecurity, the future of the nation’s health care system would likely be compromised, with rising costs for everyone.
''One out of seven of our neighbors do not know
where their next meal is coming from.''
So how did Margaret, as one individual, find her way to addressing this crisis and making a difference? After losing her father to pancreatic cancer in 2006, she began learning more details about the essential nature of a healthy diet for preventing disease. To honor her father’s life, last spring she began harvesting fruits and vegetables in her mother’s back yard and donating the produce to local cancer survivors. That way, they were assured access to nutrient-dense foods that could help enhance their well-being.
Because her yield was small, Margaret negotiated with local grocers to have them donate their excess produce to her mission. Upon learning how widespread the problem of food insecurity is in Connecticut, she began partnering with local growers to procure their extra yield, and scheduled more regular pick-ups from the grocers, as well. As often happens when someone pursues their passion, one door opened to another. What had started as a small personal family tribute expanded into a larger philanthropic endeavor. In the inevitable interweaving of personal, local and global, this growth necessitated the involvement and unity of the broader population.
Feeney Farm’s effect on the sense of community in the area (and vice versa) is seen in multiple ways, with people “coming out of the woodwork” to offer support. Margaret continues to work with local growers and sellers willing to donate surplus produce, and also organizes school and office food drives, all of which benefit local food assistance agencies. Though all types of food donations are welcome at these drives, the focus is on acquiring healthy non-perishable items, such as whole grain rice, peanut butter, canned vegetables and fruits, tuna, and beans. Feeney Farm also provides nutritional information (including health benefits and simple recipes for typical food distribution items) that can be easily disseminated among those served by the local food banks and pantries.
Death can give a clear picture of the reality that life is short. Motivated by her personal grief, Margaret utilized new awareness acquired from her experiences and chose to make a difference by giving to others. She speaks with tremendous gratitude for those who offer assistance with this venture and have enabled its expansion. These combined efforts help ensure that thousands of Connecticut residents have a more consistent supply of nutritious fare so they can become food-secure and decrease their risk of chronic illness.
Inspiration often leads to creativity and innovation. Margaret has been moved and influenced by others who help people in their immediate communities to stay fed and healthy, such as City Harvest in New York. In turn, she hopes the processes of Feeney Farm will be replicated by others, or help motivate action toward a greater good. There is a quote along the lines of “Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something.” Margaret’s advice about the first step for any individual wanting to get started? Simply follow your heart.
Feeney Farm is now fundraising for its 2011 operations and will be holding a series of food drives to increase food availability to Fairfield County citizens in need. If you, your school, company or organization are interested in hosting a drive, making a donation, or volunteering for upcoming projects, email Margaret at [email protected], or visit FeeneyFarm.org.
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."