Emergency Food, Gardening, and Nutrition Education: A Survey of Michigan Food Pantries

Emergency Food, Gardening and Nutrition Education:
A Survey of Michigan Food Pantries

About the Survey

In 2014, Michigan Fitness Foundation conducted a statewide survey of Michigan emergency food providers. The purpose of this evaluation was to answer two questions:

  1. What opportunities and barriers do emergency food providers face in providing fresh fruits and vegetables to emergency food recipients?
  2. How willing and able are emergency food providers to implement specific policy, systems, and environmental changes that increase fresh produce availability and consumption?

Feedback from 260 organizations with food pantries is represented in this report (below). In-depth findings and recommendations will assist local service providers and partners from numerous fields working to improve the diets, health, and wellbeing of people accessing emergency food.

Key Findings

  • Most emergency food pantries are faith-based and have provided similar services for decades; only recently have some pantries begun to garden.

  • Most emergency food pantries distribute at least some fresh produce, but quality and availability remain issues.

  • Emergency food pantries face significant supply- and demand-side barriers to increasing fresh produce distribution.

  • Gardening is not a common activity among emergency food providers, but those pantries which do garden reap the benefits.

  • Few emergency food providers also provide nutrition education, but interest in nutrition education is high.

  • Pantries rarely engage in policy work or advocacy, but there is significant interest in these approaches.

Recommendations for Stakeholders

  • Track qualitative outcome metrics such as “food security” in addition to quantitative process metrics such as “pounds of food distributed”.

  • Design partnerships with emergency food providers according to both established food systems and public health theories of change and religious frames of reference.

  • Advocate in support of existing federal nutrition programs. The impact of changes to these programs on pantries and the people they serve is significantly greater than the impact of other recommended improvements to pantry operations, however positive.

  • Encourage and equip emergency food recipients to increase their consumption of available fruits and vegetables by providing targeted nutrition education and social marketing when food is picked up.

  • Consider alternative, just-in-time distribution models such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which offer numerous benefits to participants without requiring increased cold-storage capacity.

  • Add food production (gardens, etc.) to pantry operations where feasible.

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