MAC Spring 2005 Newsletter

Hunger Overview

Food Keeps Us Going

Local Farms Grow Crops to Support Hunger Relief

Coupons Buy Fresh Produce

Why People Are Hungry Activity

Hunger Relief Activity Ideas

Hunger Relief Resources

Contact Us


Hunger Relief

What Is Hunger?

Hunger occurs when people don’t get enough food and nutrients to meet basic nutritional needs. Most hungry people have some food, but not enough, or enough of the right foods. They face chronic undernourishment and vitamin or mineral deficiencies. This results in stunted growth, weakness and susceptibility to illness. Hunger slows thinking, saps energy, hinders fetal development and contributes to mental retardation. It lessens productivity and sense of hope and well-being, eroding relationships.

Children especially need adequate nutrition to develop properly or risk serious health problems, including impaired cognitive development; growth failure; physical weakness; anemia, and stunting. Several of these lead to irreparable damage. The Tufts University School of Science and Policy reports that recent studies show even relatively mild undernourishment produces cognitive impairments in children which can last a lifetime.

World Hunger

According to the 2004 Hunger Report, 852 million people around the world are hungry, up from 842 million in 2003. More than 1.2 billion people live below the international poverty line, earning less than $1 per day. It is difficult for them to obtain adequate, nutritious food for themselves and their families. Many developing countries are also poor and have no social safety nets. When a family can’t grow enough food or earn enough money for food, there is no available assistance.

Children, pregnant women and new mothers who breast-feed infants are at most risk of undernourishment. In the developing world, 153 million children under the age of five are underweight. Eleven million children, younger than five, die every year. More than half of these deaths are from hunger-related causes, according to World Health Organization.

Only a small percentage of hunger deaths are caused by starvation. Most are the result of chronic under-nutrition, which weakens the body's ability to ward off diseases. When people actually starve to death because no food is available, the cause is primarily political.

Hunger at Home

The U.S. has the most abundant food supply in the world, yet hunger exists here and is too often hidden. Hunger in America looks different from hunger in other parts of the world. According to the U.S.D.A., one-in-ten households in the U.S. experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. This represents 36.3 million people, including 13 million children. Some skip meals or may eat less to make ends meet; others rely on emergency food assistance programs and charities.

In American cities, the requests for emergency food assistance increased by 13 percent in 2004, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. More than half of the requests came from families with children, and 34 percent of adults requesting assistance were employed. Poverty and hunger does not exist in cities alone -- it is also found in suburbs and rural communities across the U.S.

In Massachusetts, 600,000 people lived below the poverty level in 2002. This represents 9.5 percent of the state’s population. In low-income communities in Massachusetts, 43 percent of households with annual income below $20,000 can not afford adequate food.

Why Are People Hungry

Hunger affects the most vulnerable in our society, especially children and the elderly. Hunger is directly related to constrained financial resources. It affects those without any income, those on fixed incomes and the working poor. Many low-income families and individuals on fixed incomes have to make choices between paying the rent, obtaining medical care, buying prescription drugs, heating the home, obtaining warm clothes and shoes or buying food.

Massachusetts is the most expensive state in the nation to rent an apartment. A full-time worker, paying no more than 30 percent of his or her income in rent, must earn $22.40 per hour to afford rent for a two-bedroom apartment. Childcare for a four-year-old in center-based care in Greater Boston averages $8,000 per year. The average cost of infant care is higher, averaging $13,000 per year.

During the winter months, when utility bills are high, many more families are forced to cut their food budgets. Some people seek emergency food to get them through a short-term crisis; those without incomes need long-term assistance; and an increasing number seek food to fill in gaps their paychecks do not cover.

Hunger and Obesity

Hunger and obesity are often linked. Fresh produce and other nutrient-rich foods are often expensive. When a family can not afford these healthy foods, they are often replaced with less expensive “filler” food with empty calories. Some of the poorest children are also overweight.

What is Being Done

Hunger does not exist because the world does not produce enough food. The challenge is not production of food and wealth, but more equitable distribution. The key to overcoming hunger is to change the politics of hunger.

Around the world, individual governments, International Organizations such as the United Nations, charities and other humanitarian organizations are working to reduce hunger and starvation through relief efforts and education. Progress has been made against hunger in China and East Asia, where the majority of those who are malnourished live: China (114 million) and India (221 million). However in Sub-Saharan Africa hunger is on the rise, with 204 million hungry.

In the United States there are a variety of social services available to those in need. The United States Department of Agriculture has several programs, including the Food Stamp, Child Nutrition, School Breakfast, School Lunch and Elder programs. Churches and charities provide bags of groceries and nutritious meals through food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens. Some programs offer assistance with heating costs.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources provides coupons to low-income families to buy fresh produce at Farmers’ Markets. It also manages the Emergency Food Assistance Program. Some Massachusetts farms and home-gardeners grow food to donate to food banks and soup kitchens. Project Bread sponsors a Walk for Hunger to raise funds to support 400 emergency food programs in Massachusetts. Their toll-free hotline connects to a variety of federal, state and local support programs. Get involved by growing food or donating time to one of these worthy efforts.

Food Keeps Us Going

All people everywhere require the same amount and variety of foods for energy, growth and health. Principal organic nutrients are proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Food also provides needed vitamins and minerals.

Energy is obtained primarily from carbohydrates and fats. Energy is needed for growth, maintenance, reproduction, lactation and daily activity. In addition, fats give food flavor, keep skin healthy and maintain the nervous system.

Proteins are made up of amino acids. They are essential to the building and repairing of tissue in the body. Protein is only used as a source of energy when no carbohydrates or fats are consumed.

Vitamins are food substances needed for growth and health. There are two general groups of vitamins, fat-soluble and water-soluble. Fat- soluble vitamins include Vitamins A, D, E and K. Water-soluble vitamins include Vitamin C and the B complex Vitamins.

Minerals are found in the body in small amounts; however, they are essential to life. They are necessary for the proper functioning of the nervous, endocrine, circulatory and urinary systems.

The U.S.D.A. recommends the calories in our diet consist of approximately 50% carbohydrates, less than 30% fats and 20% proteins. Grains provide the carbohydrates and B vitamins we need for energy. Vegetables give us Vitamin A and fiber. Fruits supply Vitamin C and fiber. Meats, fish, nuts and beans give our bodies protein, iron, zinc, and B 12. Dairy products provide calcium, protein, riboflavin and Vitamin D for healthy bones and teeth.

The New My Pyramid Plan

The My Pyramid Plan can help you choose the foods and amounts that are right for you. It will help you to make smart choices from every food group and estimate what and how much you need to eat based on age, sex, and physical activity level. The hope is that each person will get the most nutrition from calories eaten.

Visit the USDA My Pyramid web site at and take an animated tour of the new pyramid. Download the My Pyramid mini-poster to learn the basics about eating healthy and physical activity. Explore the pyramid to learn about the food groups and to see how much physical activity you should be getting. There are also resources and materials for use in developing education materials.

Local Farms Grow Crops to Support Hunger Relief

A number of farms across Massachusetts grow crops to support hunger relief through donations of healthy nutritious fruits and vegetables to local food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens. Several also provide opportunities for community service, youth training and education about agriculture for the general public and school groups. Consider getting involved at one of these farms.

Community Farms Outreach in Waltham is a non-profit organization that supports farmland preservation, hunger relief and education. The farm offers a Community Supported Agriculture opportunity where the public can buy shares of fresh healthy produce. Educational programs pro-vide opportunities for children and adults to learn “where their food comes from.” Volunteers grow fresh produce for soup kitchens, shelters and food pantries. Find out more: Community Farms Outreach, 240 Beaver Street Waltham, MA 02452. Visit or call 781-899-2403.

Community Harvest Project operates at both Brigham Hill Community Farm in North Grafton and Elmwood Farm in Hopkinton. The Project donates one-hundred percent of its harvest to the Worcester County Food Bank, Kid's Café and other hunger-relief efforts. Volunteers, both individuals and groups, grow tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, squash and more. The philosophy is “we're a farm with two crops. Not only do we help feed thousands of our neighbors in need, but those who come to help at the farm learn about helping others, finding meaningful fellowship and unity of purpose. Each of us leaves our volunteer work with the knowledge that we've taken action and made a difference.” Find out more: Community Harvest Project at Brigham Hill Community Farm 37 Wheeler Road North Grafton, MA 01536. Visit or 508-839-1037.

The Food Bank Farm is a sixty-acre organic Community Supported Agriculture Farm in Hadley. Members can volunteer or buy a farm share. For $435 they receive organic produce from June to September and also participate in pick-your-own fruit and flower activities. The Food Bank Farm donates fifty percent of the fresh produce raised at the farm to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. Over the past five years this donation has amounted to more than 900,000 pounds of fresh produce. Find out more: 121 Bay Road (Route 47 near Route 9), Hadley MA 01035. Call 413-582-0013 or visit

The Food Project produces nearly a quarter-million pounds of organic food annually, donating half to local shelters. The rest is sold through Community Supported Agriculture crop shares, farmers’ markets and Harvest Bags. Each year more than a hundred teens and thousands of volunteers farm on 31 acres in rural Lincoln, and on several lots in urban Boston. The mission is to grow a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system, produce healthy food for residents of the city and suburbs and provide youth leadership opportunities. The program also strives to inspire and support others to create change in their own communities. Find out more: 3 Goose Pond Road, P.O. Box 705 Lincoln, MA 01773. Call 781-259-8621 or

Overlook Farm in Rutland is one of three regional U.S. centers for Heifer Project International (HPI). Overlook Farm educates visitors about HPI's message to eliminate hunger and poverty through sustain- able agriculture. Programs revolve around an integrated land and livestock production system which uses techniques and resources similar to those available to U.S. families who receive assistance from HPI. Visitors can participate in the operation of a working farm, volunteer in community projects or take a tour. They can experience a special one-acre plot that shows subsistence-level agricultural practices of farmers in other countries or spend time at a Central American-type farm or visit a Tibetan yurt, (a yak hair tent). Visitors can even arrange for a “Habitat Farm Hunger Seminar" that includes cooking a meal common to the world's poor. Contributions to HPI support education and gifts of livestock to poor families in the U.S. and around the world. Find out more: 216 Wachusett Street, Rutland, MA 01543. Visit or call 508-886-2221.

Plant a Row for the Hungry is sponsored by the Garden Writers of America. The purpose is to create and sustain a grassroots program whereby gardeners plant an extra row of vegetables and donate the surplus to local food banks and soup kitchens. The goal is to provide more and better quality food for the hungry. Success hinges on the people-helping-people approach. PAR’s role is to provide focus, direction and support to volunteer committees who execute the programs at the local level. They assist in coordinating local food collection systems and monitor the volume of donations being conveyed to the soup kitchens and food banks. Last year, more than 1.3 million pounds of produce were donated. The garden writers utilize their position with local media to encourage readers and listeners to donate their surplus garden produce to help feed America’s hungry. Find out more: Garden Writers of America Foundation - Plant a Row for the Hungry, 10210 Leatherleaf Court Manassas, VA 20111. Visit or call 877-492-2727 toll-free.

Coupons Buy Fresh Produce

The Massachusetts Farmers' Market Coupon Program provides coupons that are redeemable for fresh produce at Farmers’ Markets to participants in the Federal Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and also to elders. The coupons supplement regular food package assistance providing nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. They also introduce families to farmers’ markets and support nutrition education goals.

Local farmers are reimbursed for the face value of the coupons. This enhances their earnings and supports participation in farmers’ markets. Farmers also attract a new base of customers, providing additional sales opportunities, and capture a greater share of the consumer food dollar through direct marketing. The program also promotes diversification on small farms by encouraging the production of locally grown fresh produce.

Funding is provided by the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, with a 30% administrative match provided by the state. This year the federal government will provide $500,000 to Massachusetts for the WIC program and $52,000 for the Elders program. The MA Dept. of Agricultural Resources will match administrative costs for the WIC program and provide $25,000 along with an additional $25,000 match from the State Elder Affairs Office to bring the elder-coupon program to $100,000.

The Farmers’ Market Coupon Program was founded in Massachusetts in 1986 by the MA Department of Agricultural Resources. In 1989, Congress adopted the program nationally by funding a three-year demonstration project in ten states. The success of this project led Congress to enact the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Act of 1992, establishing it as the 14th federal food- assistance program of the U.S.DA. The number of states participating in the program has grown significantly.

Why People Are Activity

This economics activity, geared to grades six through eight, focuses on food distribution. It demonstrates that equality of distribution resources is a major cause of hunger.

1. Prepare ahead of time a snack food (apples or crackers) for your class. You will need one medium apple, cut into four pieces, or four crackers for each student. Divide the number of students into four equal groups.

2. Place all food resources in a bowl or on a table so that all the students can see them. Tell the class that one portion is equal to one apple or four crackers. Explain that the snack foods represent the world food supply.

3. Divide the food so that ¼ of the class gets a moderate portion (four slices or crackers), ¼ gets a small portion (two slices or crackers), ¼ gets a very large portion (six slices or crackers) and ¼ splits whatever is left or gets nothing. Distribute the snack randomly so students receiving large portions are located near students who receive small portions or nothing at all. Ask the students not to eat the food until told to do so.

4. Explain to the students that the snacks simulates how much people around the world have to eat. Ask them to look around to see how their portion relates to those of others.

5. Explain that the distribution corresponds to that in the real world. In some countries, there are a few very rich people, many middle-income people, and a smaller number of poor people who often go hungry. In some countries, almost everyone is middle-income level and no one goes hungry. In other countries, most of the people are poor and many go hungry. There are hungry people and well-fed people in virtually every country and virtually every community.

6. OPTIONAL: Allow the students to try to work out whether they would like to distribute the food more fairly or eat it as it was given. If they choose to change the distribution, ask them to try to design a fair method. Explain that it is often difficult for people of the world to negotiate fair solutions to problems, especially when some are hungry.

7. Allow the students to eat their snack. If snack allotments were not redistributed, provide portions for those students who did not receive a portion during the simulation.

8. Discuss with students that the world produces enough food to feed every man, woman and child the equivalent in calories to what the average person in the U.S. eats every day. Ask students from each portion group to tell how it felt to see how much was available and then how much they received.

From: A Guide to Food and Fiber System Literacy Oklahoma State university, 1998

Hunger Relief Activity Ideas

Hunger Relief Resources

MA Dept of Agricultural Resources
Farmers’ Market Coupon Program
David Webber
251 Causeway Street Suite 500
Boston, MA 02114
617-626-1754 fax: 617-626-1850

U.SD.A. Food and Nutrition Service Susan Gentile
Child Nutrition Program
10 Causeway Street Room 501
Boston, MA 02222-1064

Project Bread & Walk for Hunger
Statewide organization promoting public policies that reduce hunger & poverty.
Toll-free hunger hotline: 800-645-8333


America’s Second Harvest: national network of food banks and food rescue programs.

Bread for the World: a nationwide Christian citizen’s movement seeking justice for the world's hungry.

Center on Hunger and Poverty at Brandeis University

Church World Service sponsors the CROP Walk and engages in anti-poverty work in the U.S. and around the world.

Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger: lessons about the food system and food security.

Food Research and Action Center

The Massachusetts Family Economic Self-Sufficiency (MassFESS) Project
MAZON: Jewish Response to Hunger provides food, help and hope to hungry people of all faiths and backgrounds.
National Hunger Awareness Day will be held on June 7.
U.S.D.A. Economic Resource Service

World Health Organization

World Population Data Sheet for 2003
Information for this newsletter was taken from the resources listed above.



Mission: Massachusetts Agriculture ion the Classroom is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) educational organization with the mission to foster an awareness and learning in all areas related to the food and agriculture industries and the economic and social importance of agriculture to the state national and the world.