Dallas council OKs garden sales despite corn concerns

From the Dallas Morning News City Hall Blog:

A Dallas City Council discussion Wednesday over corn stalks gave audience members an earful and nearly halted ordinance changes outlining agriculture and produce sales in the city.

The proposed measures to allow Dallas gardeners to sell what they grow narrowly passed in an 8:7 vote. A suggestion to revisit the changes in another committee failed in a tie vote.

The Plan Commission’s Zoning Ordinance Committee recommended the changes last month after numerous talks and a January tour of community gardens.

The code changes allow gardeners to sell what they grow offsite, if the garden is in a residential area, or onsite if it is in a commercial area. They also allow gardens to have chickens and fish and outline how tall raised gardening beds and structures can be without counting as additional structures on the property.

The recommendations came after gardening groups complained that restrictions on selling produce hurt efforts to expand food growth in the city, especially in areas classified as food deserts.

But City Council members Sandy Greyson and Dwaine Caraway couldn’t stomach the idea of sky-high corn stalks in the city, which they feared allowing sales would encourage.

“I can’t imagine there aren’t neighborhoods in this city that don’t want people growing crops in their front yard,” Greyson said.

Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates weighed in with concerns about the changes loosening restrictions on growing structures, which she feared could lead to more sheds and carports in front yards.

Council members Carolyn Davis and Scott Griggs disagreed with the concerns, noting that residents are allowed to grow corn now, and saying they haven’t noticed many cornfields in the city.

“I’ve only seen corn in one gentleman’s yard…and I think it’s absolutely wonderful,” Griggs said. “In Oak Cliff, we may not have access to as many Central Markets or Whole Foods stores as people up north… so I would certainly support anyone’s right to grow fresh vegetables in their front yard.”

At least one council member found the lengthy discussion corny.

“I’m worried that we’re engaging in discrimination against corn,” council member Philip Kingston said, to laughter and applause from gardeners in the audience.

Greyson, Caraway, Gates, Adam Medrano, Monica Alonzo, Rick Callahan and Sheffie Kadane voted to take the item back to the Quality of Life Committee, against Griggs, Kingston, Davis, Jerry Allen, Lee Kleinman, Vonciel Jones Hill and Tennell Atkins.

After that failed in a tie, Medrano joined the other seven in approving the changes as proposed. Mayor Mike Rawlings was out of town.

To read the full article, click here.

Mississippi: Thousands more kids to get free school meals

An additional 17,000 Mississippi children will be able to eat free breakfast and lunch at school thanks to a new system that automatically identifies eligible students.

Completed last month by the Mississippi Department of Education, the system eliminates the need for parents to fill out applications. Instead, it automatically finds eligible students by matching school enrollment lists against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, records.

More than 300,000 households in Mississippi – or roughly 22 percent of the population – receive SNAP benefits, which used to be known as food stamps, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Direct certification is an important process to ensure that students who are eligible for benefits receive nutrition through USDA meal programs,” said Scott Clements, director of MDE’s Office of Child Nutrition, in a press release. “It directly benefits some of Mississippi’s most vulnerable children.”

Sixty-three percent of K-12 students already receive free meals at school in Mississippi, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The new program would boost that rate to about 67 percent.

Read the full article here.

Texas Households on Food Stamps has Almost Tripled Since 2000

By Alexa Ura, From The Texas Tribune

The number of households in Texas receiving food stamps has almost tripled since 2000, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2013, 1.3 million Texas households received aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — up from 505,968 in 2000. The percentage of Texas households on food stamps increased from 6.9 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2013. Nationwide, 13.5 percent of households received food stamps in 2013.

Celia Cole, CEO of the Texas Food Bank Network, said the necessity for food stamps increased significantly during the 2008 economic recession, and the high number of recipients indicates that many poor Texans are still “struggling to make ends meet.”

“I think they’re facing a harder time recovering despite overall gains in the economy” in recent years, Cole said.

SNAP provides assistance to low-income people and families through Lone Star cards that can be used like credit cards at stores that accept food stamps. In Texas, a family of four must make less than $38,868 a year to qualify.

The census data includes SNAP participation rates among Texas households in which at least one individual received SNAP benefits in the last year. Texans’ participation in the program remained stable from 2012 to 2013.

Read the full article here. 

Sign the Petition to Save SNAP

Next week, Congress is poised to begin consideration of its FY2016 Budget Resolution – and SNAP (formerly food stamps) is being targeted for cuts.

We need your voice – and the voices of thousands of others – to say that Congress should support SNAP.

To help prevent SNAP cuts for hungry Texans, please sign this petition yourself, and share it with your friends before March 24th!

Click here to sign the petition 

After-school dinner program a success in Dallas

The kitchen at Highland Meadows Elementary School is a busy one these days. When all of the lunch shifts are completed, workers are busy chopping and cooking up additional meals for dozens of students.

They know some of the children will return to the cafeteria for dinner before heading home.

“Their lunch is so early in the day, by the time it’s 3 o’clock, they’re starving all over again,” explained Assistant Principal Annette Fields.

Fields says Highland Meadows is among Dallas Independent School District campuses now offering an after-school supper program.

“It’s been taking off like crazy,” Field said.

Ninety percent of the students in Dallas ISD are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Educators say there are a lot of children across the district who go home hungry.

Like many school districts across the county, Dallas ISD decided to take advantage of a federal after-school meal program.

Dora Rivas, executive director of food and child nutrition the district, said she has watched the program grow from 37 schools to 136 schools over the past two years.

“The students — where we have the program — have found that … they are able to go through enrichment and tutorial programs and they get re-energized so they can make it through,” she said.


Read the rest, and see the television news segment, here.

Beyond Free Lunch: Schools Open Food Pantries For Hungry Families

John Still K-8 School, home of the Tigers, serves Meadowview, a picturesque name for a Sacramento, Calif., neighborhood blanketed in concrete and bare of trees.

There are 970 students on John Still’s campus, and every one of them qualifies for the free and reduced meal program, which provides breakfast, lunch and a supper snack.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8.6 million children experienced food insecurity in 2013. When food gaps become chronic in these households, poor nutrition and stress can turn into long-term health consequences for adults and children.

More schools are stepping up to help these families. Feeding America, a network of U.S. food banks, says its School Pantry Program served more than 21 million meals to nearly 110,000 children nationwide in 2013 through a variety of models — including boxed meals, and sites where families choose items for their meals.

Amaya Weiss, the learning support specialist at John Still, runs the Youth and Family Resource Center, which houses a food pantry for students and their families.

The food pantry has “lots of Top Ramen, lots of soups, tomatoes,” Weiss says. “My families love pasta, because it’s easy to make. And sometimes the kids just come in here and say, ‘I’m still hungry, can I have something to eat?’ And then we give them that, too.”

Read the rest at Texas Public Radio:

2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors Survey on Hunger and Homelessness

Seventy-one percent of cities included in this year’s U.S. Conference of Mayors “Survey on Hunger and Homelessness” reported an increase in requests for emergency food assistance, with a number of cities citing recent benefit cuts contributing to this increased demand.

Cities are at the forefront of those recognizing the value of government nutrition programs. One-third of surveyed cities called for SNAP benefits to be increased. Two cities- St. Paul, MN and Trenton, NJ- specifically cited “lack of SNAP benefits” as a main cause of hunger. And when asked about some of the biggest challenges to addressing hunger, a number of cities said their emergency food providers were unable to keep with the growing need caused by cuts to SNAP and other benefit programs.Read the full report here.

DCHS & The Family Garden Project in the Dallas Morning News

Mesquite-based Sharing Life Community Outreach provides gardens for those in need

By Hannah Declerk

Norma Vann may be a great-grandmother, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuing to grow a family — only this time it is in her backyard.

Vann, 64, is providing for a household of eight and participated in the family garden initiative hosted in part by Sharing Life Community Outreach in Mesquite.

Sharing Life volunteers planted a container garden in Vann’s backyard with lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, green beans, spinach, cilantro, radish, cucumbers and collard greens. They used a product known as GardenSoxx, a mesh container.

“It is such a deal-breaker between fresh vegetables and canned vegetables,” Vann said.

Executive Director Teresa Jackson said the program, like others provided through Sharing Life, focuses on the needs of clients and empowers them to become an agent of change for their futures.

Sharing Life is one of 25 agencies supported by The Dallas Morning News Charities this year. The nonprofit provides short-term financial assistance, food, clothing, school supplies, ESL classes and job skills training for those in far East Dallas ZIP codes that meet the 2014-15 Federal Poverty Guidelines.

“The concept is just incredible. Instead of handing a man a fish, you are teaching them to fish. And they are being able to grow their own food,” said Wendy Hardeman, Sharing Life volunteer manager.

Jackson said she had first learned of the initiative this past spring from a friend at the Dallas Baptist Association.

The Family Garden Initiative began in 2010 as a partnership between Church of the Open Door and Filtrexx Foundation, both in Lorain County, Ohio. Filtrexx International manufactures the GardenSoxx. The purpose is to work with low-income communities.

This is the first time providing GardenSoxx through the initiative has been introduced this far south in the Dallas area, Jackson said.

Jackson said she works closely with the Dallas Baptist Association through the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions.

In early spring, the coalition developed the Hunger Solutions for the Faith Community Guide, which includes six solutions to address hunger. One of the six hunger solutions highlighted is the Family Garden Initiative Project.

Read the full article here

Healthy Eating Eluding Many with Disabilities

“People with disabilities are falling far short when it comes to consuming recommended levels of vitamins and other nutrients, researchers say.

Most Americans do not adhere to daily nutrition recommendations, but a new study finds that those with disabilities are fairing below average.

Researchers looked at data on nearly 12,000 people — including over 4,200 with various disabilities — who participated in the government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which inquire about food and supplement intake.

They found that most U.S. adults eat too much saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and do not take in recommended levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium and iron.

People with disabilities were even less likely to follow guidelines on saturated fat, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and potassium, according to findings published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

What’s more, those with the most severe disabilities — whether physical or mental — were least likely to report good nutritional habits, the study found.”

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