Opportunities and challenges for improving food security for vulnerable populations through meso-level collaboration in Baltimore, Maryland
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Food insecurity is a problem that affects 15 percent of all people in the United States. In Baltimore, Maryland, that number is over 25 percent overall, and 35 percent among African-Americans, which makes up 60 percent of the city's population. Food security means that not only is food accessible to all people, but also that the food is healthy. Because of the conducive climate and high number of vacant lots and open spaces, Baltimore has a growing culture of urban food production. Despite the abundance of food, production and retail has continued to remain concentrated in food secure areas rather than being equally distributed across the city. Thus, in addition to other socio-economic factors such as high crime, low education, low-incentive for businesses in low-income areas, etc., food insecurity in Baltimore is perpetuated by unequal distribution resulting from a lack of interaction and communication between socio-economic classes and racial/ethnic groups across the city. For the purpose of this research, three levels of actors are identified: macro, or top-down governmental or external entities; meso- organizations or individuals working both internally with a community and connected to top-down resources; micro- community organizations or individuals. This research aimed to gain a deeper understanding of the current food culture in the city to better understand why food insecurity remains pervasive in certain areas, and determine what bottom-up (micro-level) efforts currently exist and how these efforts can be paired with top-down (macro-level) initiatives through collaboration with meso-level organizations who work to connect people and projects with funding and other resources. The combination of top-down policy making and bottom-up initiatives can allow individuals in food insecure areas in Baltimore the means to create a sustainable urban food network that understands and serves local community values and cultures. The overall goal of this research was to implement methods that not only shed light on why current conditions exist, but also to propose future recommendations for how meso-level actors can be utilized as gatekeepers between communities and top-down resources.