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Creative approaches could end hunger

As rich as Kentucky is in farmland, no one should ever go hungry. Sadly, that couldn’t be farther from reality — especially for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

A recent report, “The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2016” published by Feeding America and The National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, offered analysis of food insecurity among seniors across the country. The data show that 4.9 million seniors over the age of 60 were food insecure in 2016. In Kentucky, the food insecurity rate for seniors is the sixth highest rate in the nation.

Of course, seniors with the lowest incomes are most at risk of facing food challenges, yet about two-thirds of food-insecure seniors have income above the federal poverty level. This means they do not qualify for federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

“It is unacceptable that Kentucky has the sixth-highest rate of food insecure seniors in the nation,” Tamara Sandberg, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks, said in a prepared release. “Together we must do more to address senior hunger and help ensure that the golden years are truly golden for Kentucky’s seniors.”

It simply doesn’t have to be this way.

We live in a state that continues to struggle with job creation and food insecurity. It is time we think outside the box and work to address these community crises.

Kentucky has hundreds of thousands of acres of unused farm land or property that could be developed into that. Why not create public-private partnerships to utilize this property to create jobs, grow food and put money back into our economy?

It would certainly take a significant investment from the state and maybe even the federal government to create a program like this. It would almost be a throwback to some of the alphabet soup programs Franklin D. Roosevelt created following the Great Depression.

Property owners could receive financial or tax incentives to allow their unused acreage to be developed into farms.

Thousands of Kentuckians who continue to struggle to find steady jobs or make a living wage could be hired to work the farms and administer the program.

Produce grown could be donated to food banks and senior centers and even sold outside the commonwealth to generate revenue to put back into the program.

Imagine the benefits of feeding our citizens, putting more people to work and injecting millions into the economy. Would it be difficult to create a program like this? Absolutely. Would it be worth it? Without question.

We simply cannot be satisfied with the status quo when it comes to feeding our citizens or creating jobs that can truly support our families.

Kentucky deserves better. Kentucky can do better.

Michael Caldwell is interim publisher of The Advocate-Messenger and Danville Living magazine. He can be reached at (859) 469-6400 or by email at mike.caldwell@centralkynews.com.