Four Elements of Food Security

Four Elements of Food Security

Posted by Amber Jouben on Oct 14th 2021

Food security is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA) as following:

“When all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

That’s quite a definition for the key element of every human life worldwide!

The question is, can we confidently say that we, as individuals, are indeed food secure?

If the answer is no, the simplest solution would be to immediately begin walking a path toward food security. How does one work towards the goal of food security during such a tumultuous society and world?

Use these as a starting point in your journey toward living a healthier and more food-secure lifestyle!

Four Key Elements of Food Security

Availability, Access, Utilization, Sustainability (Stability)

1 - Availability

Availably is the first key element to obtaining food security. Availability is all about food supply and trade at its core. To achieve availability of food long term, we will need to create a sustainable and productive farm/garden system and community. Availability of food means a constant supply of a wide variety of food.

How to achieve availability on a small scale: Increase the amount and variety of foods that are readily available to you. To do this, you will need to grow a wide variety of food. A variety of food is key to meeting nutritional needs. Many home gardeners focus on only the crops that are their “favorites” like tomatoes or zucchini. However, when we take a long hard look at what it would mean to meet all our nutritional needs for a year, tomatoes and zucchini alone are not going to be enough. Growing a wide range of fruits, nuts and vegetables is key. An example of achieving availability in the home garden would be to plant a wide variety of crops that will come to harvest all throughout the growing season. This can be achieved by succession planting. One harvest of carrots a year will not meet the need of availability if you enjoy eating raw carrots on your salad every day. We could achieve proper availability of our carrots by planting one row of carrots each week, so each week you will have a small harvest of fresh carrots. Availability will also include properly maintaining systems that are already in place like an established pecan tree, asparagus patch, or a native wild berry patch. Lastly, availability will include maintaining a network of growers that will supplement your personal harvests and vice versa. An example of this might look like trading with a neighboring farm or home. For instance, you grow large quantities of strawberries, and your neighbor grows bumper crops of blueberries, so you trade. Maintaining the ability to to barter and trade by establishing community around you is also important.

2 - Access

Access to food is a vital key to food security. Often, food insecurities happen directly because of a break down in transportation of goods. A farm may be producing abundant amounts of food but if you cannot access that food, because of supply chain disruptions, the food grown will sit in trucks and rot. During a natural disaster there may be plenty of food supply in a country or state but because the disaster has limited transportation or sales food insecurity will take place.

How to improve Access to food on a small scale: Cutting out as many obstacles that stand in the way between farm to table. The most efficient way to achieve this is to grow as much of your own food as possible. When access to your personal food supply is only a few steps out the backdoor, your food security system is greatly increased. To increase access to foods that you do not currently grow, find local resources to meet those needs. Go to the farm directly and purchase produce. Buy beef directly from a farmer. Buy produce directly from an orchard. Connecting to local resources will increase your access to foods and build your food security.

3 - Utilization

Utilization means to efficiently use all food available. There are several ways that utilization plays a significant part in building food security. The first way would be to utilize the food that is already being grown in a way that will best meet your nutritional needs. Increasing the nutritional density of your food is first. It takes the same amount of space to grow lettuce in poor, nutrient depleted soil as it does to grow lettuce in nutrient rich compost. Preserving nutrients is second. After harvest, the sooner the crop is preserved or eaten the higher the nutritional value will be. The amount of nutrients in a crop significantly decreases with each passing day post-harvest. Utilizing every edible part of a plant is also key to food security. This is part of a "no waste" mentality. An example would be harvesting sweet potato vines, garlic scopes, harvesting both the greens of turnips as well as the turnip bulb, to name a few. The next step in utilization would be composting. Any inedible part of the plant will then be composted. This compost will in return feed the soil. Utilization of food is a beautiful cycle that provides nutrient rich crops.

How to Utilize food on a small scale: Maintain nutrient rich soil. After harvest, eat or preserve immediately to utilize all available nutrients from food. Use all edible parts of crops and use all leftovers from harvest to build compost.

4 - Stability/Sustainability

Stability and Sustainability go hand in hand. The last key to food security is maintaining sustainable growing practices while also maintaining stability within these growing practices. So, what is the difference between sustainable and stability? Sustainable means that something has the ability to continue on without the need of an outside source. Stability means that your foundational growing practices are strong and durable. Stability also would mean having constant backup food resources available.

How does a small-scale gardener / farmer achieve sustainability and stability? Three things are needed to achieve sustainability in a personal food chain. The first is the need to find crops that can self-renew year after year. Heirloom and open pollinated seeds are the foundation of garden sustainability. Being able to seed save is an incredibly important part of sustainability. Seed saving from heirloom and open pollinated seeds will remove the need to purchase seed every year. For fruits trees and bushes, this might look like planting self-pollinating varieties. For livestock this would mean maintaining healthy breeding pairs.

Obtaining food stability on a small scale would look like always growing and preserving more than what is needed. Your personal store of food is always full and available as back up in case of a failed crop. Growing the same crop twice a year instead of once a year will provide stability. If an early bean crop is lost, a second crop can be planted to offset the loss. Using every single day of your growing season will also increase stability in your food supply.

Why does Food Security Matter?

Food security is a fundamental human need. As the world around us continues to shift and change, one thing will always remain the same…our need for food. With all the growing instabilities within global supply chains, the need to maintain personal food security is growing daily. Here we will summarize four simple ways to increase food stability:

1. Making more food available by growing a wider variety of fruits and vegetables.

2. Gain easier access by succession planting and closing the gaps between farm to table.

3. Utilizing the food that you are already growing by feeding your soil, using all edible parts of crops, and composting.

4. Increasing your sustainability by using heirloom or open pollinated seeds and growing more than you need to prepare for failed crops and preserving extra for lean years.

The need for individual food security is growing by the day, use these four elements as a starting point in your journey toward living a healthier and more food secure lifestyle!

Blessings of Bounty - Amber Jouben

Heritage Hollow Homestead