April 25, 2013
In Connecticut, do all people have access to enough nutritious food for a healthy life? How do our state and communities address the issue of food access and security for all?
Sarah Thrall is the current President of the Junior League of Hartford. A lifelong volunteer, she has coached youth athletics, served on various boards including the Granby Education Foundation, Valley Pre-School, the Farmington Valley YMCA, and the Windsor Junior Women's Club. She has served a variety of roles on the leadership team of the Junior League of Hartford since 2006.
Gloria J. McAdam has served as chief executive of Foodshare since 1984. During this time, the need within our community has grown tremendously, but through Gloria's leadership, so has Foodshare's response. Gloria currently serves as Vice Chair of the National Council, and previously served for two years on the Board of Directors of Feeding America, the country’s largest charitable food program. She also previously served two years each as secretary and chair of the Eastern Region Association of Food Banks, which extends from Maine to Florida. Gloria is a founding member and former chair of the Connecticut Food Policy Council and the Board of Directors of End Hunger Connecticut.
Jennifer Roach began working in community agriculture in 2010 when she started an organic garden at a women’s rehabilitation center. In 2011, she co-founded the Summer of Solutions Hartford, a youth leadership development and food justice summer program in Hartford that engages young people in building community and school gardens. She is currently a Program Leader with Summer of Solutions Hartford in their third year, an active member of Food Not Bombs, and the Garden Manager at the Burns Latino Studies Academy.
Gloria J. McAdam
Foodshare provides food to Hartford and Tolland Counties to feed 130,000 people. “Mapping the Meal Gap” shows that low income people get food from many sources including food pantries and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). In the two counties that Foodshare serves, the gap between what is provided and what is needed is $64 million; Foodshare provides $23 million in food to close that gap. This shows that more soup kitchens and bigger pantries are not the solutions – we need to shorten the lines in our pantries and food kitchens and help people move towards self-sufficiency. Foodshare volunteers help people take advantage of SNAP, and in the past 10 years the number of eligible people who take advantage of it has risen from 65% to 75%, in part because of Foodshare’s work. Fresh food is often available but expensive because the state does not support fresh agriculture – they subsidize growing corn which is made into junk foods. There must also be a move to help people become more self-sufficient through programs like the Junior League and Summer of Solutions.
The Junior League looks for problems in the community that they can help solve. They have started Freshplace a community kitchen/food pantry which provides more of a shopping experience, with access to fresh food, produce, meats, etc. they also offer case management services – clients shop with a volunteer twice per month and meet with a case manager once per month who helps them find jobs and become more sufficient. Participation has proven to lead to sufficiency. The Junior League is starting to focus on issues rather than single projects, and the current issue is eliminating hunger in Hartford. They also run a backpack program at Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School which provides food for the weekend for a family; a Kids in the Kitchen program which exposes kids to healthy foods and active lifestyles; Junior League members have been serving food at Loaves and Fishes Ministries for 25 years; and other projects in the Hartford area.
Summer Solutions Hartford gets young people involved in green economy projects and issues of social justice in their communities, a model which has been used 22 times across the country. The program invites young people ages 14-30 to join the organization for a 10-week summer program on food preservation, food justice, and urban agriculture. The first year (2010), the organization built a community garden on the corner of Zion and Park Streets, which included potlucks and arts activities to get the community involved. The initiative transformed abandoned lots into community spaces (60 garden beds in the first week), engaging locals who knew how to garden but did not own their own homes with spaces to garden. Another community garden was built on Broad Street with Trinity students. They engage even younger people through summer school programs on gardening and healthy cooking. This summer will be their third year and they will continue to teach about food justice. She found that people in the surrounding neighborhoods did not have transportation to supermarkets for fresh food, and were shopping at corner stores where fresh food is not typically available or is often expensive; they are unable to use their gardening and cooking skills. Community gardens bring fresh produce as well as a space where food grows; a different kind of space.
GROUP DISCUSSION (AUDIENCE QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS):
Audience question: Why are there no supermarkets with fresh produce in Hartford?
- Gloria: The price of land and density make it difficult. The alternatives are transportation which bring the people to the supermarkets
- Audience member: There is a Stop & Shop on New Park Street and Sav-a-Lot stores which have some variety. SNAP benefit are two-for-one at some farmer’s market.
- Gloria: Some farmer’s markets do not take SNAP because “two-for-one” requires private funding to match.
Audience comment: The food problem needs two solutions: direct access to food and advocacy. The Hartford Food System is doing advocacy and encouraging Hartford supermarkets to sell healthier food towards the front of the store with junk food at the back. It is not that there is no produce in Hartford but the quality is poor.
Audience question: How do you know how many people are eligible for SNAP? (75% of those eligible take advantage of it) Why do food trucks not go into poorer neighborhoods to provide food?
- Gloria: It is an estimate based on income. The Foodshare trucks make 70 stops in 2 week rotations, and most stops are at low income and senior housing; each truck has at least 6-8 items.
Audience question: Where does the $22 million in provided food come from?
- Gloria: The food is donated by companies, and the $5 million to run the trucks annually is raised through Foodshare.
Audience question: What is being done for those who do not qualify for SNAP? (those who are just over the financial line)
- Gloria: Foodshare and provides food to those who are not eligible and those who are eligible because it is a private organization. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is a physical card (rather than stamps) on which they can purchase food only.
Audience question: Are people with SNAP and other programs taught how to cook the food they receive?
- Sarah: Freshplace offers cooking classes which teach both cooking and build a sense of community with others in the neighborhood. Volunteers who shop with participants also exchange recipes.
- Jennifer: Cooking is a big part of the Summer of Solutions. They share a meal together everyday. Participants work on one garden all summer to build ownership, and each team cooks a meal with fresh ingredients once per week. Food is donated by local farms which ensures raw ingredients for the participants to use in cooking. Radishes, fennel, and other food which is not grown is also provided for variety. The program builds both skills and confidence. While she trusts food she grows more than that she buys at a store, participants trust food from the store more because they are concerned the food they grow is not clean enough.
Audience question: Can you explain “self sufficiency.”
- Gloria: That people are able to support themselves, pay their bills, and have enough money to buy their food, without assistance.
- Audience question: If SNAP does not allow the purchasing of rotisserie chickens, cooked meats, etc. because they are considered "gourmet food," where do participants get their proteins?
- Gloria and Sarah: Both Freshplace and Foodshare distribute fresh meats (chicken, beef, other meats).
- Audience comment: She used to work at a food pantry in Maine and found the knowledge of cooking disappeared with generations after immigration – someone who has recently moved to the United States may not have seen moose meat but can cook with meat, whereas they would turn away boxed macaroni and cheese. We must tap into the food knowledge already in existence in communities because this is a problem in America of not knowing how to cook. Emergency food systems tend to be prepared foods because there is often no space for participants to cook on their own, and shared food time is disappearing with adults having multiple jobs.
- Jennifer: She noticed that immigrants also had incredible gardening knowledge.
Katherine: How did this happen? Why can’t Americans cook and why do they rely on pre-prepared foods?
- Audience comment: There is no advertising budget for rice and meats, only large brands like "Chef Boyardee."
- Audience comment: When she was young her parents were too busy to cook, and when she was on her own she had to relearn how to cook. She now grows her own food, has chickens, but it is still challenging. The problem started when parents started working, because there was much less time to teach children how to cook.
- Audience question: Cultural families learn how to use what you have – Is the problem not the access to food but not knowing how to cook the food you have?
- Gloria: Both are the problems, and it is also generational – young people do not seem to know how to cook.
- Audience question: She used to work at the Department of Public Health where there were initiatives on smoking and health – did they ever have initiatives on food or nutrition?
- Gloria: The DOPH does not have initiatives to fight hunger.
- Audience comment: Cooking Matters is a multi-week program which also teaches participants to shop on a budget and cook.
- Audience comment: There is an afterschool Cooking Matters program at the Mary Hooker School where they bring in hot plates and microwaves.
Audience comment: Another problem is school lunches and improving the food that is provided. While some schools have summer gardens, what happens over the summers?
- Audience comment: Several members from Grow Hartford explained that the food at Hartford schools is not healthy, is cooked with oils, and is not appetizing. Things need to change.
- Audience comment: The problem is that the reimbursement rate is only $2.50 per meal for school lunches.
- Audience comment: Is a group in West Hartford working on lunches in schools. School lunches are difficult because are constraints with money, constraints on being able to pay cooks and workers, constraints on facilities, and students not wanting to eat it.
- Audience comment: It is easier to grow a garden in schools than change the policies. A grassroots effort of concerned parents and teachers are what is needed to make a change.
- Audience comment: Gardens and programming in schools would expose students to fresh food at a young age and change the problem of kids not liking certain foods or knowing how to eat/prepare them.
- Audience comment: She runs the Hartford Youth Scholars Program, an after school and summer program for 90 6th–8th grade students through Trinity College. They would love to be able to feed the students after school and try to get the healthiest food but it is difficult when prices are so high and 80% are on free or reduced lunch.
- Gloria: Foodshare could provide food to the organization, Parks and Rec could provide food at the program site, and extra produce is available from supermarkets at the end of the day.
- Audience comment: After WWII, victory gardens were started – the government encouraged growing gardens, and today we should petition the government to again support gardens (not companies like Monsanto).
- Audience member: Those interested should connect with faith-based organizations which are some of the largest land owners in urban areas, and since they already do a good amount of food collecting they may be willing to donate land.
- Gloria: Foodshare is working to reduce the need while providing access to food until the gap is closed. Food drives are not a good way to make food accessible – donating money allows food pantries to purchase by the truckload or make food accessible.
Audience comment: Do we have good communication with food service companies and restaurants about the need for food?
- Gloria: At Foodshare, employees and volunteers are making connections with restaurants and companies daily.
INSPIRATION TO ACTION
- Contact Senators and Congressmen to get fresh foods in schools and communities, eliminate farm subsidies.
- Promote SNAP and WIC programs.
- Work to increase and share food knowledge.
- Check out “Cooking Matters” program and get it into your community.
- Volunteer to maintain school gardens during the summer so people have access to fresh food after June.
- Demand better and more nutritious lunches in schools.
- Support GrowHartford.org.
- Work to get gardens in elementary schools.
- Grow something!
- Connect with faith-based communities on this issue – they have lots of land and/or ability to host gardens and lunches.
- Apply to be a participant or leader in the Summer Solutions program (ages 14-30).
- Volunteer! (it is National Volunteer Week!)
- Cook and eat fresh foods – lead by example!
- Participate in the Walk Against Hunger.