Supporting Food and Nutrition in Schools

Nurturing Growth: A Personal Journey Rooted in Food

The icon photo for this post is a flashback to my namesake’s family picnic circa 1996.

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In every sector, from business to policy-making, the advice to “Start with Why” rings out. My “why” is driven by a simple, powerful belief: everyone deserves the right to nourish themselves and their families with meaningful foods from responsible sources

This concept of food sovereignty is crucial for individual well-being and ensuring that communities are strong, grounded, and healthy as they face global challenges such as pandemics, climate change, and conflict. When basic needs are met, individuals and households are better equipped to tackle the larger themes and challenges of life.  

Intersections of Poverty, Public Health, Climate, and Agriculture

I was born to a 24-year-old Michigan girl — an accounting student turned cosmetologist — and a Sarawakian boy, an indigenous Malaysian student, not much older, becoming a businessman who returned home before I was born. My younger brother was fathered by a different man, who was also entirely absent from his life. Raised by my mother and grandparents in rural, predominantly white towns, I became acutely aware of socioeconomic and racial inequities as we hovered around the poverty line and faced the realities of food insecurity.  

I remember helping my mom pick out WIC-approved foods while keeping my brother entertained, doing my best to ignore judgmental glances of other shoppers. We qualified for free breakfast and lunch for most of my school years, which lumped us into unfavorable social hierarchies determining one’s worth by what one ate or where one sat in the cafeteria. When my family moved to Florida, my mother’s leap to become a cosmetology teacher brought a better salary but also led to losing our food benefit – a stark example of the “cliff effect” many Americans face when moving up the socioeconomic ladder. These and many other experiences inform my work in this realm. 

The realities of poverty and food insecurity in the United States highlight a complex interplay of socioeconomic factors affecting dignity and equity. It’s estimated that 37.9 million Americans experience poverty; some believe that figure could be much higher. When including the working poor and those just one emergency away from economic ruin, the figure rises toward 140 million people—over one-third of the country’s population. 

Food insecurity affects 36.7% of households below the poverty line, including a disproportionate impact on families of color, causing people to choose between paying for food or things like medical bills, utilities, healthcare, etc. 

Furthermore, because vulnerable communities have fewer resources to protect against or recover from extreme events, people of color face a higher risk of health impacts related to extreme weather and climate change. Global climate challenges such as soil health, water scarcity, pollution, barriers to access land, etc, directly affect the resilience of our food supply and all the small outlets it reaches. 

The food ecosystem is a powerful nexus of impact. It is an interconnected web of farmers, ranchers, food producers, aggregators, processors, packagers, food hubs, distributors, retailers, governing bodies, and various modes of food access – think food banks, pantries, and public health programs or schools that offer meal, snack, or charitable food provisions. This realm can affect healthy student meals, elderly meal delivery, adequate food benefits for a low-income family, and nutrition or cooking classes for a young parent or guardian. This sector affects farming practices for a local grower, food procurement standards for schools and early childhood education centers, and – ideally – the prevention of expensive chronic disease through policy, systems, and the environment.

This is a space where policy and philanthropy must come together. We must empower communities, support innovative and regenerative farming and food production practices, and ensure equitable resource distribution to prepare the next generation of farmers for tomorrow’s agricultural challenges. 

  • Policies (at local, state, and federal levels) need to remove barriers and streamline services for low-income families, communities of color, and organizations or producers that support them. 
  • Public programs created or regulated by such legislation must be bold enough to test new approaches, remove red tape, be forward-thinking in their budgeting and decision-making structures, and be critical in their evaluation. 
  • Philanthropy must brave the storm alongside these playersby making long-term investments to catalyze collaboration, innovation, and stewardship of programs for meaningful impact. Systemic change requires more than a one-time study or a five-year funding priority. Less restrictive funding and more thought partnership create space for candor, creative problem-solving, and experimentation. 

Rooting to Rise…Together.

From my grandpa’s peach trees to the golden curry my mom would make out of nostalgia, from the humbling experiences of relying on food stamps to studying Nutrition-Dietetics and seeing the outrageous amount of food waste in this country, I am constantly reminded of how closely food is tied to culture and humanity. 

For me, this work is about food sovereignty, dignity, and transformation.. It’s about nurturing sustainable and systemic changes so that future generations have the resources to thrive. It’s about consolidating our collective energy to push toward a healthier future for all.

Growing up as a mixed-race girl from a poor, single-mother household, I’ve faced challenges of food insecurity, poverty, and a lack of opportunities. I’ve felt the joys and adversity of interning with Ute Mountain Ute Public Health and leading a social-impact food logistics and distribution company. Through the hardships and with a lot of help, I’ve cultivated a spirit that refuses to submit. Now, at the Donnell-Kay Foundation, these experiences coalesce into my commitment to uplift innovative and long-lasting solutions for family and community wellness. 

In sharing my story, I hope to inspire others to align their “why” with the vital work of creating a more equitable and healthy community – in Colorado and beyond.

 


Written By: Maggie Kinneberg

Maggie Kinneberg is a multi-faceted collaborator and leader, focused on the intersections of learning, food systems, and community health promotion....

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