Army spouse Lori Green often found her vegetable garden overflowing with produce.
Seeing a need in her community, she turned her passion and green thumb for growing food into a robust project to help military families in need.
“At first, I was happy just to have excess fresh food to give away, but that soon led to an idea to teach people that even in tiny spaces they can grow their own food,” Green said.
Through the Change Your Narrative project, she’s helping military families fighting food insecurity.
According to a 2019 study by the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN), one in eight military and veteran families are suffering from food insecurity. Research found that in certain pockets of the country, like Washington State where Green is based, that number can often be as high as one in five.
“We have the time and the finances to help those who are in need,” Green said. “For us, it is a passion. My goal is to teach these younger families a means to support themselves.”
Army spouse Desiree Alvarez, whose husband is stationed at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord, currently participates in the program. Her family works with Green to farm the land and cultivate vegetables. During the process, she says she and her children have already learned so much.
“Our kids love it. I think this project is just what the community needs,” she said.
Alvarez says that she has learned to grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables.
“It would be incredible if more military families had this knowledge and these resources. It could potentially help so many.”
Shelley Kimball, senior director of research and program evaluation for MFAN, says her organization is consistently working to figure out the best ways to help those in need. In fact, the group recently launched an effort to distribute 1 million meals to families in need.
“We try to figure out how these families get there and how best to help them before they get to hunger,” she said.
According to Kimball, the problem of food insecurity and military families is complex. MFAN began researching the issue in 2017, and since then has found food insecurity is rarely one event or one moment.
“It is a range of events, so (the study) helps us see where people are on that spectrum.”
The additional challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have compounded this issue for many. According to a statement released in March, MFAN is actively working with partner organizations to locate and share resources so families know where to go for food. It is partnering with advocacy organizations to make more solutions available for the military community.
Back on the farm in Washington State, Green is growing those solutions. Her latest crop includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, peas, peppers, spinach, and tomatoes. She’s teamed up with a local farm to provide milk and participants will soon learn to make butter, cheese, and yogurt. She’s adding additional beehives to provide honey to serve as crop pollination for local farms.
Green said her goal is to bridge the rural community with the military spouse community. Going forward, she hopes to incorporate veterans, particularly those fighting homelessness, into the program.
Alvarez has been cultivating her own green thumb and said the program has made a real difference for families in need at JBLM. She added her children are excited about raising chickens.
Green says the chickens have made every day an Easter egg hunt for the kids enrolled in the program.
“We like to lay eggs in random places and watching the kids hunting the eggs is priceless. It is so amazing to watch their smiles and laughs. Then they get to clean and take home the eggs they gathered.”
The Military Family Advisory Network recently launched an effort to distribute 1 million meals to military families. Visit Combat Military Hunger for more information on resources and upcoming events.