Local Groups Address Food Insecurity In Creative and Sustainable Ways

(This is an article that Jake wrote and was published in the local newspaper last month.)

Many of us see the United States as a country with plenty of food, yet not all households in America are food secure - meaning that the household has access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. According to the USDA’s November 2008 statistics, 15% of American households experience food insecurity at some time in a given year because of food deprivation and lack of access to food due to economic resource constraints. This is a dramatic increase from 11% in 2007 and 10% in 1999. One in eight people in Dunn County live below the poverty line but food insecure households are not always living under the poverty line. In today’s economy many families are often just an unexpected health care bill, a car repair, or a lost job away from food insecurity.

Food insecurity is not always where we would expect to find it. According to Feeding America 18% of children under the age of 18 in Wisconsin are food insecure. A recent NPR report indicates rising tuition costs and a tough economy are making it difficult for families of college students. This has lead to an increase in the number of hungry and even homeless college students. According to the USDA, more than three quarters of a million Americans over 65 and living alone have difficulty providing themselves with a steady supply of food and experience some degree of hunger.

In Dunn County, Stepping Stones Food Pantry serves 559 households each month in need of emergency food assistance. Annually the Food pantry serves 18,000 people, 43% (5,600) of them are children.

Local Individuals and Organizations Making a Difference

Despite these sobering statistics, many local citizens and non-profits have used it as an opportunity to come together as a community and are approaching food insecurity in a sustainable and creative manner. Tuesday’s Table at St. Joseph’s and Thursday’s Table at the First Congregational-UCC serve hot meals made by local volunteers. The Shirley Doane Senior Center offers hot meals and provides a weekday Meals on Wheels service. The Menomonie Community Garden offers inexpensive plots as well as gardening classes so that members of the community may grow their own food.

Recognizing the local need, UW-Stout student & summer VISTA Joseph Pangborn and Nina Borchowiec, a VISTA working at the Dunn County Extension office, are encouraging the establishment of a local Campus Kitchen Project hosted by UW-Stout. The project is a food recycling program that uses cooked but never served food from the campus dining halls to make healthy, balanced, and nutritious meals and provide them to participating organizations and households.

"The Campus Kitchen Project is potentially a very powerful tool to help improve food security in the Menomonie area. If we are able to tap into the excess resources of the campus dining facilities, we can reduce waste and provide invaluable support to the community," says Pangborn.

Joseph, who also assists with the Menomonie Farmer’s Market, assists with the coordination of a Family Table Cooking Class, where attendees learn to cook healthy and inexpensive meals as well as visit and participate in a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to increase awareness and opportunity for food security.

For over over 20 years Julie McNaughton of Menomonie Area Bread for the World has been a beacon for food security projects in Dunn County. She is very interested in eliminating food insecurity and hunger locally and around the world. Julie coordinates the Empty Bowls project and Crop Walk and encourages area residents to write their legislators in support of beneficial legislation.

What can you do to help with Food Security in Dunn County?

* bring the issue of food security up in social settings
* volunteer with a local non-profit such as Stepping Stones or Tuesday’s & Thursday’s Table
* get involved in local food security projects with the Menomonie Food and Agriculture Connection
* support your local growers and CSAs to ensure a diverse local food system
* donate to the Stepping Stones Food Pantry