Connecting Neighbors -- Creating Food SecurityMay 27, 2022
Zen Honeycutt wants to help Americans grow their own food, share it and achieve better health and food security one block at a time.
Honeycutt founded the Neighborhood Food Network (NFN) to “transform the food supply in America and beyond. That means taking on the food industry and creating a parallel food system. We cannot afford to wait for them to get their act together,” she said.
“As food shortages are predicted across the nation, we cannot count on our government to bail us out. We are wise to prepare for the worst and expect the best,” she said.
Honeycutt timed the rollout of the Neighborhood Food Network for the week after Earth Day, April 22.
“COVID was so divisive. Many people avoided each other because of fear of contagion. Some even hated each other based on differences of opinion about masks, vaccinations and voting Republican or Democratic.”
“When people are isolated and scared it brings out the worst in them. If we grow food together, we can move beyond race, gender and other differences. Even if there is no food crisis in the future, if miraculously the government figures it out, neighbors will be more connected and eating healthier homegrown food,” she said.
Honeycutt is the founder and executive director of Moms Across America and author of Unstoppable: Transforming Sickness and Struggle into Triumph, Empowerment, and a Celebration of Community. She lives in western North Carolina.
The inspiration for the Neighborhood Food Network came from Anne Temple, a team member at Moms Across America who has been gardening, sharing food and helping people start growing vegetables in her Milwaukee, Wisconsin, neighborhood for years. “Anne’s love and passion got me hooked,” she said.
Temple’s tactics are simple — say hi to your neighbors, chat about everything and anything, encourage them to come to neighborhood potlucks, cookouts and meetings, talk about food and, slowly but steadily, shift them into the mindset of “I can do it.”
“People always say, ‘But I don’t have a green thumb.’ But everyone has a ‘thumb’ and it doesn’t have to be green.”
Not everyone needs to be an active gardener. “If someone can’t garden, say, because of arthritis, she can still participate. She can serve as the neighborhood liaison or the resource person. She can open up part of her yard to neighbors for a community garden,” Temple said.
How to meet those neighbors to begin with? Temple sees no problem. “Pull a wagon down the street filled with tomato plants to give away and you will know your neighbors really soon. Tomatoes are the gateway plant.”
Although many people will join the NFN to learn how to survive in the face of food shortages and rising food prices, Honeycutt believes its greatest value could come from the health benefits gained when families regularly eat fresh, organic and uncontaminated food.
For children afflicted with allergies and food sensitivities, this can be a matter of life and death.
Indeed, Honeycutt committed to improving the food supply after one of her sons nearly died from glyphosate toxicity and her entire family’s health improved after switching to an organic, GMO-free diet.
She decided to found Moms Across America in 2012, after California voters turned down Proposition 37, which would have required the statewide labeling of GMO ingredients in foods and beverages. The 501c3 non-profit organization reaches millions of people every month with its mission “to educate and inspire mothers and others to transform the food industry and environment, creating healthy communities together.”
Helping people control their food supply by growing their own food was the inevitable next step.
“Food has been on my mind for a long time,” Honeycutt said. “There is so much lying by companies that call their products organic. Even food labeled organic is often contaminated with glyphosate.
“Grow your own food and you know the truth of it. You know what was in the soil and what you put on. Go hyperlocal — across the street, not even across town. The way to know the foods we eat is to grow them with our very own hands.”
Honeycutt supports the Institute for Responsible Technology, Cornucopia, Organic Eye, Organic Consumer Association and other organizations fighting for truth in labeling and consistent, meaningful standards. That said, she believes the ultimate solution is to bypass the food industry altogether.
The Food Neighborhood Network is a newborn in the “pilot program” stage. Honeycutt’s team is busy gathering resources, enlisting partners and ironing out the kinks. “Our immediate goal is to put down strong roots so we can relaunch next year with partners all across America,” she said.
“It’s like growing asparagus. Not much showing at first, but then exponential growth.”
The NFN aims to provide as many free resources as possible. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, for example, has offered free seed starter sets (while supplies last) for those who attend the first neighborhood meetings.
The calls cover topics such as how to get started in your own neighborhood, manage weeds and pests without toxic chemicals, build cold frames, set up composting pallets, choose the best site for a chicken coop, challenge zoning regulations . . . and more.
Each week Honeycutt answers questions about organizing neighborhoods. Experienced gardeners and small farmers tackle questions about growing organic and biodynamic crops and raising backyard chickens and goats.
“People want to do this,” Honeycutt said. “They just need the blueprint for a program. Our health crisis is too great to wait.
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