Ideas for combating hunger in SLO County to be presented to supervisors

bcuddy@thetribunenews.comOctober 12, 2012 

A worker fills up a flat with ripe strawberries at the Hayashi farm in Arroyo Grande.

JOE JOHNSTON — The Tribune Buy Photo

Farmers in San Luis Obispo County produce enough fruit and vegetables to give each county resident 7.5 pounds a day of this nutritious food.

Yet the number of people going hungry is rising, and the Food Bank has seen a 90 percent increase in the number of people who need its help over the past five years.

Community groups fighting hunger call this “the paradox of plenty,” and have come up with a highly detailed documentation of the problem as well as recommendations on how to solve it.

They will outline their “community road map for overcoming hunger in San Luis Obispo County” for the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the County Government Center, 1055 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo.

Countless individuals who work with groups from the Food Bank to STRIDE at Cal Poly collaborated on the report, which is rich in detail and covers everything from the causes of hunger to suggestions for fixing it.

In getting to that latter place, the report’s authors have put together a staggering load of information to provide context and background for decision-makers.

Some examples:

• Children make up 19 percent of the county’s population but constitute 40 percent of the Food Bank’s users.

• The number of county schoolchildren enrolled in the free and reduced price meal program is up to 43 percent, or 14,700 youngsters. Most of them do not get this food during the summer, when school is out.

• Seniors and Latinos are also disproportionately affected.

• There are structural impediments for getting out of the quagmire. For example, San Luis Obispo County is driven by agriculture, which pays low wages. Add to that the lack of housing that even people making an average wage can afford to buy, and there is a situation in which many families must choose “between buying food and paying their rent or mortgage and medical expenses.”

• The average age of principal farm operators in the county is 59, and there is a looming threat of their farms being taken out of production. “A younger generation of farmers must be cultivated.”

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