Low-Income Local Food Access Network Forming

First meeting tomorrow, Tuesday Sept. 23, at 8 p.m. at 156 West Hamilton Ave.

9.21.14 CC Food Access Network Brief (includes sample program overview in Attachment A, and list of potential network members in Attachment B)

CENTRAL PA FOOD ACCESS & NUTRITION/CIVIC AGRICULTURE NETWORK

PARTICIPANTS (Additional participants welcome)

Jim Eisenstein (F&F Board Member, Boalsburg Farmers Market outreach); Josh Lambert (SCHF President), Laura Zaino (incoming SCHF board member); Dorothy Blair, (retired Nutrition prof, Central PA Community Action Board Member); Christine Least (F&F Board Member/Grants Coordinator/PA Nutrition Education TRACKS Evaluation Coordinator); Katherine Watt, (F&F Board Member, SCHF founder)

OVERVIEW & ACTION QUESTION

There are a number of efforts in Centre County centered around promoting local food, farmers markets, access to food for low income people, food banks, nutritional education, and other related topics. Should we attempt to pool these efforts together and create or repurpose the Spring Creek Homesteading 501-c-3 to be an umbrella organization supporting these goals through tax-exempt charitable and educational programs?

GOALS

  1. Help low-income families improve nutrition through enrollment in existing state and federal programs, and creating new local programs to subsidize purchase of local products from Centre County Farmers Markets, support for food banks, nutritional information and education about how to prepare fresh food.
  2. Promote farmers markets generally.
  3. Sponsor health and nutritional education generally and at farmers markets and food outlets.
  4. Sponsor cooking demonstrations at farmers markets and elsewhere.
  5. Reach out to social workers and others who meet with people receiving benefits of all kinds, to reach low income people who do not cook now or even know much about nutrition to attend educational programs and cooking demonstrations.
  6. Facilitate delivery of excess food from farmers markets, farms, and gardens to food banks.
  7. Sponsor canning parties where people can preserve excess produce and seconds together.

BACKGROUND

Jim was in Evanston IL visiting relatives, and learned that the Evanston Farmers Market was sponsoring a harvest dinner very much like the Boalsburg Farmer’s Market Plow to Plate Dinner. He found that the its harvest dinner was not sponsored by the market itself, but by Friends of the Evanston Farmers Market, a 501 C 3 non-profit organization whose mission is to support and improve farmers markets in Evanston, market local farmers markets, and educate consumers and farmers.

He spoke with Vicki Proctor, one of the key founders of the group and found that the primary way they use the charitable contributions they receive is to help SNAP beneficiaries stretch the benefits they spend at the market by adding $.50 to every $1.00 spent, up to $10.00.

Here in Central PA, a similar organization could reduce duplication of effort and facilitate communication among people sharing values and goals for increased access to local fresh nutritious food, for low-income families at food banks, farmers markets, and elsewhere, and raise money towards these ends through grants and tax-deductible contributions. A Central Pennsylvania Food Access & Nutrition Network could also benefit local farmers markets, local farmers, and food outlets featuring local food.

Jim concluded that the current need is for a strategy to explore the feasibility, degree of support, goals, and organizational details of such an organization.

LOGISTICS

Dorothy is very interested in the project, and has access to relevant survey data from Centre County food pantries about their needs.  She also serves on the Board of Central PA Community Action (Centre and Clearfield Counties): the local branch of a nationwide poverty-alleviating organization that also works on weatherization, low income housing, fuel bill relief, in addition to overseeing the food pantries in Centre and Clearfield counties.

At Central PA Community Action’s bi-monthly meeting in September, Dorothy discussed Jim’s idea with Stacy LoCastro, the administrative director, and learned that Stacy would be able and willing administer the funds and to distribute farmers market vouchers, and to put the agency on the Centre Foundation’s Centre County Gives list for this purpose.

Stacy recently received $1,000 from the Bob Ott Memorial Fund to give food vouchers to Phillipsburg food pantry users for fresh food purchases at grocery stores (the farmers market situation in Phillipsburg is bleak).  She had in the past received a sum of money for farmers market vouchers, and has the vouchers printed in $5 amounts. So she is totally on board.

More info from Dorothy:

Existing Model Programs in PA. The Adams County Food Policy Council Healthy Options program provides $40/month to enrolled families to purchase food at farmers markets and also provides food/nutrition education at the market.  This program benefits both the marketers and the recipients, by allowing a disenfranchised segment of the population to shop at farmers markets, and by keeping food money local. See ATTACHMENT A and website.

Reaching the target population. Only one-third of the eligible folks in Centre County receive SNAP benefits (food stamps), so the target population for food access and nutrition is much larger than the SNAP recipients. Further, SNAP eligibility levels eliminate benefits for many low-income people for whom farmer’s markets are too expensive, or vegetables are not considered a high priority. Office of Aging and WIC vouchers are quite small – perhaps $25 for the season.

Food Policy Councils. Adams County (like cities of Philadelphia and Toronto, and other counties) has a Food Policy Council that is more inclusive, engaging major county players. We could widen participation to make our efforts “Civic Agriculture.”  Both Friends & Farmers Cooperative and Spring Creek Homesteading Fund have a large citizen base on which to jumpstart these efforts; a Central PA Food Policy Council could also help us reach more than present SNAP recipients.

Dorothy concluded that if we could get “meaningful money” for farmer’s market vouchers, we would have a real impact on increasing the viability of farmers markets all over the two county area, also improving health among the poor.  Our role would be to encourage individuals and charitable institutions that support farmers markets and/or poverty alleviation to see this effort as a priority for their donations.  Also, we could cooperate to organize nutrition and food education at the markets.  We are very well situated to do such education.

Two counties may be a jump for us and there are only a few farmers markets there, most notably in DuBois.  Poverty levels are very high, and it would take a while before farmers saw the opportunities.  They particularly need high tunnels to extend their season and education about how to apply for the USDA grants.

Katherine contributed:

Jim’s idea for an umbrella program could be implemented under SCHF’s tax-exempt status, eliminating the need for new nonprofit incorporation and IRS application procedures. It cost us about $1,200 to incorporate SCHF and another $400 to get the IRS exemption, and took roughly two years to get those two steps done. Food security is at the core of the organization, so this is not anything out of the ordinary range of activities.

Also, Centre Region COG-Public Services & Environmental Committee began considering energy security from a regional planning perspective last spring, at the urging of CITY-GREEN, advocating for regional participation in the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition.

COG-PSEC and the COG planning staff didn’t go for the GUEP application, but have leveraged some of the momentum to develop a plan to create and fund (probably in the 2016 COG budget) a new regional Energy Resource Coordinator position at the regional level. At their September meeting, Stacy Richards of SEDA-COG’s Energy Resource Center in Lewisburg provided them with good information and support for moving ahead on a region-wide approach.

COG is beginning to grapple with the energy side of the equation from an economic and emergency preparedness point of view, and may be ready to grasp the food implications as well, given some time to process information and, even better, an advocacy group lobbying for regional approaches to nutrition.

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