Weekly Columns

If you’re like me, you like to sneak a treat or two from the candy jar. While eating healthy is something we all strive to do, falling short is easy. Sometimes we have to be reminded to eat our fruits and vegetables and maintain a balanced diet.

March is a good time for that reminder since it is National Nutrition Month. It is a time when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages us to make informed healthy eating choices, as well as develop an exercise program. I know that I always need help in both of these areas and I am proud to join the academy in this healthy initiative. Initiated in 1973 as a week-long event, “National Nutrition Week” became a month-long observance in 1980 in response to growing public interest in nutrition.

Nutrition plays a vital role in Arkansas culture. Our farmers, ranchers and other agribusinesses are working to develop methods that efficiently provide the food and fiber we need to feed our nation and supply food to people around the world.

Hunger and a lack of nutrition is more than just a problem we see on the news, but in reality it is happening to people just down the street. According to recent studies, hunger is a struggle for one in six Americans and many of those suffering from food insecurities are children. With a slow to recover economy and increasing energy prices, families are making choices between putting a nutritious meal on the table and paying the utilities. Some of our seniors have to decide between purchasing their medicine and skipping a meal.

As Congress works to get our nation’s fiscal house in order, we are also crafting an agriculture safety net that contributes to deficit reduction, but ensures that Americans continue to have the safest, most affordable reliable food supply on the planet. This is a major goal as we reauthorize the Farm Bill.

Earlier this month, we welcomed fifth-generation farmer, Jody Hardin of Grady, as he testified before the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee offering suggestions on how we can shorten the distance between the farm and the fork. By some estimates, the average crop can travel up to 1,500 miles between the producer and the consumer. According to Hardin, and other local food advocates, local food sourcing can provide fresher vegetables and reduce the cost of transporting food, as well as reduce pressure on our transportation fuel supply. In the past, some families have been unable to afford or access healthy foods, particularly fresh vegetables. Hardin believes, and has shown us, that local sourcing can make healthy foods more affordable and accessible than ever.

Bentonville based Walmart promotes locally grown food in its stores and has done so for many years. Walmart says it does this because consumers are demanding it and it helps the bottom line. Customers are offered a fresher product because the crop has not traveled from miles away to reach the store. Additionally, this has revived local food crops—Arkansans would rather buy a Bradley County Pink Tomato than an out-of-state grape tomato. These revived local markets have helped sustain and create local farms.

I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress, through existing federal programs and agencies, and most importantly, our local hunger relief networks to fight hunger and malnourishment in our state and throughout the world. Our state is a leader in agriculture. As Arkansans we need to make sure our neighbors are getting the food they need and eating healthy. With small individual efforts we can, and will, make a big difference in the lives of many.