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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Wenzel

Meme Wars: Feeding the Homeless for Free -But Is it Free?

What do you do with a visionary concept that seems impossible? One that is simple but so far out of reach? Often, I feel this way about memes. They are innovative, and with one sentence, the world's problems can be fixed one like and share at a time. Or so it seems.

The meme I'm about to discuss today is a great idea. I shared it in my Instagram story because it is a fantastic and sustainable solution to one of our world's biggest problems: hunger.

The meme suggested that by planting sidewalk gardens everywhere, we could create a utopia of abundance where everyone, including the homeless, eats for free. It seems like a great idea but is it as straightforward as it sounds?

It's so easy to share a meme and believe that we could change the world by following its advice. I mean, come on, FREE food for the homeless! What's not to love about that? Communities where people are well-fed experience lower crime rates, and the children can concentrate better in school because they are satiated and well-nourished. What could go wrong?

Cost Management Questions

Who is going to manage these gardens? Even fruit trees alone will require annual pruning, pest control, and clean-up. That is only the beginning. How much will it cost to pay a team to manage all this free food for the homeless? Could there be a program where the homeless live in tiny house communities nearby and care for the trees in exchange for free food and a place to live? How long can the residents participate in such a program before moving out and finding a more long-term housing solution?

What about tools and maintenance costs? Where will all the tools, gasoline cans, and pest control measures be stored while not using them? What about trucks and transportation to the sites?

Trees would also likely have to be on private property for this idea to work. After all, there is only so much space in public areas, and right-of-ways need to be accessible for several reasons. Private property owners would have to allow easement rights on their land for enough space to grow crops.

What might incentivize a property owner to plant an urban orchard in their front yard? Tax cuts? Free food? The love in their hearts? Depending on the person, it could be a hard sell or an easy one.

What about stealing?

There seem to be plenty of people that believe that the food would be stolen and sold on black markets for profit. Others said that the local kids would take the fruit off the trees and throw them at each other and the property of others. The comment section has many opinions in favor of and opposing this idea. Any proposal worth considering will come with a set of critics, and we must entertain their thoughts if we want success.

Let's talk stealing for a moment. If food was growing freely and abundantly everywhere, why would anyone want to steal it? If it's free, it's not stealing. If it was free, who would buy it?

But is it crazy to consider selling some crops in a farmers market?

Could the food be sold as a way to fund such a program? The food would not be free, but such a program would need capital to continue each year.

Another flaw: Homeless people don't have freezers

Because the creator of this meme wants people to eat all year round, there has to be a solution to having this food last until the next harvest. Now we're back to cost management once again. This time, it's worse. If you're living out on the street or bouncing between shelters and friend's couches, you don't have a place to preserve and store food. You need physical structures to keep canned food and canning and dehydrating supplies. Once the canned food is consumed, what happens to the jars? Do people bring them back upon submitting a form for more food rations? What would a good incentive be for someone to return their jars? How will this program afford new canning supplies each year if jars aren't returning?

Volunteers and donations

If you're still reading, you've already realized that a program like this has a lot of moving parts. Recruiting volunteers or property owners to care for and manage the gardens is essential.

Let us assume that you inspire enough people in a community to open up their yards for a suburban orchard. What does the homeowner get in exchange? There could be a few options, but only two come to mind. The first is tax cuts to families that provide the land. The other option is to have the landowner maintain their trees. That means the property owner would prune, weed and fertilize the trees or garden. They get to choose an organic or a non-organic practice and decide what foods to plant. This second option deserves a more extensive tax cut, but how do we determine what that cut is? What does the local government gain by losing tax revenue to a suburban orchard? Yields matter too. What happens if a bad storm comes in and destroys half of the crops in one year? Because the harvest is smaller, the demand for food assistance might be higher. How is the balance found in this situation?

The best solution, in this case, might be to leave local government out of it entirely. Is a small tax cut worth all this hassle? Does the government deserve to manage one more area of our lives?

Would you put a tree or mini orchard in your yard so that everyone can eat free?

  • Heck yes!

  • No way!

  • It depends (please elaborate in the comments)

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