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Student seeks to raise awareness in presentation at World Ag Expo.

Tim Hearden, Western Farm Press

February 15, 2024

3 Min Read
Jasmin Andrada
Jasmin Andrada, a senior at California State University, is researching food insecurity in Fresno County, one of the nation's top agricultural counties. She gave a presentation at the 2024 World Ag Expo.Tim Hearden

When university student Jasmin Andrada volunteered in Tulare County, Calif., during the COVID-19 pandemic, she noticed a common problem within some pockets of her community: hunger.

So the agricultural business major at California State University, Fresno, sought to do something about it. As her senior project in the honors program at Fresno State, she is researching and raising awareness about  the food insecurity that persists in one of America’s most agriculture-rich regions.

She presented a seminar at this week’s World Ag Expo and is speaking this spring before various groups and symposiums with the goal of enticing more retailers and farmers’ markets to locate in areas where many residents rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other benefits.

“It’s important to know that in households with children, if the adults are food insecure, so are the children,” Andrada told her audience at WAE.

“We aim to promote positive change,” she said.

Higher prices

Fresno County is perennially one of the top agricultural producers in the U.S., generating $8.9 billion in gross receipts in 2022 on the strength of greatly improved stone fruit prices from the previous year, according to the county’s annual crop report. Among fruit in the county:

  • Apricot prices were up almost 89%.

  • Nectarines rose 41&.

  • Plum prices rose over 32% from the previous year.

  • Peach prices varied from between 15.5% higher for processed fruit to almost 39% higher for freestone peaches.

For growers, the higher prices were offset by inflationary pressures related to picking, shipping and packing the fruit, industry leaders have said.

While prices have increased, so, too, has the prevalence of food insecurity, Andrada said during her presentation. Among 130 million households in America, 10.5% were food insecure in 2023, according to a Forbes report she cited.

Food insecurity – an official USDA term – occurs when people don’t have enough to eat and don’t know where their next meal will come from, according to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks.

California was close to the national average for food insecurity from 2020 to 2022, But many households in the Central Valley have limited access to healthy food, despite living in the heart of one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions, notes the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

Almost 1 in 3 children living in Fresno County is food insecure, putting Fresno in the top 10% of U.S. counties for child food insecurity, Andrada said.

Crop surplus

At the same time, a study from Santa Clara University found that one-third of picked crops grown in California were being left to rot in the field at the height of the pandemic in 2020, the Fresno Bee reported. Food banks could have used unpicked crops to meet shortages, but it takes money to pick the produce and haul it to facilities, the Bee noted.

Andrada grew up in agriculture in the Philippines before her family moved to the U.S. about a decade ago. After she earns her bachelor’s degree in ag business, she plans to go to work for Pepsico, she said.

With her research project, she hopes to identify disparities in food access and also find ways to increase fresh fruit distribution and demand within low-income and underserved rural areas, she said.

The awareness “creates demand for locally grown produce,” said ag business professor Srini Konduru, one of Andrada’s academic advisers at Fresno State.

The World Ag Expo in Tulare began Tuesday, Feb. 13, and concludes at 4 p.m. today, Feb. 15. Cost is $20, and kids 6 and under are admitted free.

For the full schedule of events, click here.

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