As food insecurity in Athens County persists at an alarming rate, local agencies and nonprofits are looking for ways to shift the county out of the highest ranking in the state for this dubious status.
Local hunger-relief professionals are banding together to create a Food Policy Network that will target food insecurity in Athens County. Meanwhile, area agencies tasked with addressing hunger relief continue to find new ways to serve people in need.
Lisa Trocchia, a national facilitator for the Wellbeing and Equity Building (WEB) Network and longtime Athens resident, said in an email last week that she and long-time resident June Holley (founder and former CEO of ACEnet) began formulating the Food Policy Network in the last year.
Holley has spent the last year consulting with food-policy networks around the country, and Trocchia has been doing sustainable community development and local food systems work in Athens for 20 years. Trocchia said she also served on the now-defunct Athens Food Policy Council, which was active for four or five years after its formation in 2009.
“(D)rawing on our love of Athens and our collective food systems and networking experience, June and I started doing some research and engaging with local food systems folks to see if there was an interest in re-constituting the Food Policy Council as a network,” Trocchia explained in the email.
“As it turned out,” she added, “another long-time colleague of mine, MaryAnn Martinez, who is also working as a consultant with the national WEB network, accepted the position as new executive director at Community Food Initiatives. So, the three of us began reaching out to the community, and with support from Community Food Initiatives, Rural Action, and a small grant from the Central Appalachian Network (CAN), we were able to organize our first meeting on May 6.”
Trocchia noted that the meeting “was a great success and just the beginning.”
The goal of the Food Policy Network is to bring together many community partners with a common goal: combating food insecurity and improving the quality of life for Athens area residents.
“Athens has always been very collaborative,” Trocchia said, “but this new network structure will emphasize the value of innovation, and of including citizens of all ages working across sectors on an equal basis with elected officials, city and county agencies, non-profit organizations, higher education, health and wellness professionals, financial institutions, hospitals, businesses, farmers, and food producers to leverage all the assets in our county…
“Problems that require an immediate response, like food insecurity, are always tied to other issues, such as poverty, social and economic justice, transportation, health and wellbeing,” Trocchia continued. “The most difficult problems in Athens County involve this level of complexity. The Athens Food Policy Network provides the structure for all of the communities in Athens County to work together to prioritize solutions that will work toward making sure every person has access to nutritious, locally produced food, while at the same time acting on root causes – the deeper structural problems.... we also have big picture goals for Athens County, which include using a food-systems approach to support sustainability, pathways out of poverty, equity and resilience.”
Interested citizens should contact the Athens Food Policy Network at firstname.lastname@example.org, Trocchia said.
OTHER LOCAL EFFORTS TO FIGHT food insecurity in Athens County have been around longer. Athens County Job & Family Services (ACJFS) has in the last year increased its food distributions to the point where residents in need can pick up bags or boxes of food from the ACJFS offices at the old County Home on Ohio Rt. 13 every day of the week. ACJFS Director Jean Demosky confirmed last week that the department passes out about 500 boxes of food on average each month.
In February, ACJFS started a grant-funded program called Operation Full Belly, which provides complete meal kits containing simple recipes and ingredients to people in need. Since the program began, ACJFS has distributed 38 meal kits, Demosky said last week.
Community Food Initiatives (CFI) is another entrenched local nonprofit targeting food insecurity in the region. CFI Board member Ruth Dudding, during a presentation to Athens City Council at a meeting in April, said that in 2018, CFI invested nearly $11,000 to support local food systems, much of which was invested into the Athens Farmers Market.
Over 66,000 pounds of food were distributed to individuals by CFI last year, Dudding said, and 11,000 pounds of produce donated by market vendors was redistributed to the nonprofit’s 50-plus food access partners throughout the county, the largest of which serves roughly 400 people weekly.
According to an email that CFI Donation Station Program Director Susie Huser sent Friday, the nonprofit just completed a project in collaboration with many other organizations called FEAST, or “Families Eating Affordably and Sustainably Together.”
“FEAST is a series of cooking workshops that ends with a shared meal,” Huser explained. “It was very successful 2018-2019, and we will run the series again 2019-2020. These workshops/meals happened at the Nelsonville Public Library.”
The Coolville Library also receives food from CFI on a weekly basis, thanks to CFI partner Mike Kubisek, who has been distributing food to that location for over four years, he said in an email Friday.
“(O)ver the course of 2018, he delivered 4789.25 pounds of food from CFI to the library,” Huser said in her email. “All of this food is locally/regionally grown or produced food, purchased with community-donated funds, or has been donated by local food producers like Shagbark (Seed & Mill), Snowville (dairy) and Crumbs (bakery).” CFI purchases the produce it distributes either at the Chesterhill Produce Auction or at the Athens Farmers Market.
CFI also hosted 22 workshops, held 35 Discovery Kitchen (cooking) events, managed 20,000 square feet of community or school garden land, and distributed 30,000 pounds of seed potatoes and almost 4,000 seed packets in 2018, according to Dudding’s presentation last month.
“Food insecurity is not just quantity of food, it’s the value of that food,” Dudding said at the meeting, adding that “Community Food Initiatives is really trying to change those systems that provide food, or support those systems that provide food, to make sure that the food that is provided is the best food possible.”
An increase in community-garden programs and in the number of people employed in food production, and growing the local agricultural economy are all part of city of Athens’ Sustainability Action Plan, Dudding said during the meeting, as she praised those efforts.
Ohio University is also taking steps to address food insecurity on campus, particularly with the implementation of food pantries on campus. The university also has a market on campus, Jefferson Market on East Green, that accepts SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
This Tuesday, May 14, CFI will host its annual “Plantastic Plant Start Giveaway” at three different locations:
•Hocking Athens Perry Community Action (HAPCAP) at 3 Cardaras Drive, Glouster, from noon to 1 p.m.
•Athens County Job & Family Services at 13183 Ohio Rt. 13, Millfield, from 3-4 p.m.
•ACEnet on 94 Columbus Road in Athens from 5-7 p.m.
For more information, visit this link to see a calendar of CFI events.