Rural communities make up about 80% of the state’s landmass with nearly 26% of our population, more than 1.2 million Louisianans, living in these rural areas as of 2017. This reflects a significant population shift over the last six decades- as recently as 1960, 55.5% of Louisiana residents lived in rural communities and towns that were centered around local farms and the businesses that support them. As highlighted by a recent article in The Advocate, rural communities today are facing new challenges due to an evolving agriculture industry, significant migration to urban areas, faltering infrastructure and more that are leaving many towns struggling to survive.
The rural Louisiana communities of today face higher rates of unemployment, lower median incomes, shorter life expectancies, and lower rates of high school graduation than their suburban and urban neighbors, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA ERS). In terms of poverty, nearly 1-in-4 individuals in a rural parish live below the poverty line, compared to less than 1-in-5 in urban and suburban parishes.
With these significant challenges to transportation, healthcare, and employment, it is then no surprise that rural communities also face high rates of food insecurity and poor food access. The map to the left shows the level of food access in rural, non-metropolitan parishes; darker areas have lower rates of access to healthy foods, defined as the percentage of census tracts with at least 500 people, or 1/3 of the population, living more than 10 miles from the nearest supermarket.
All of these barriers create a significant challenge for rural Louisiana residents to keep food on the table for themselves and their loved ones. Feeding Louisiana’s member food banks work closely with the cornerstones of these communities including faith-leaders, farmers, teachers, and community champions to provide emergency food, SNAP application assistance and nutrition education through program models that work for rural families.
Louisiana food banks also work closely with farmers and ranchers to purchase and triage unharvested or unsellable product and redistribute it to households in need around the state while providing extra income to our local producers.
In years past, the Louisiana Legislature has allocated money in the state budget for food banks to purchase food from Louisiana growers and producers. This type of funding is a prime example of how our legislature can invest in struggling communities by supporting those who may be struggling with hunger with necessary resources while returning state dollars into local rural economies.
Simply put, this Farm to Food Bank funding is a means of Louisianans helping Louisianans. With the third highest rate of food insecurity in the country and more than 773,000 Louisianans estimated to be food insecure, this issue is more important than ever. As we think about addressing this immense need, it is vital that Louisiana invests the necessary resources to serve and strengthen Louisiana’s rural communities.