Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sinking our Teeth into Food Justice

After receiving the Harry Chapin Award from WhyHunger, we at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard have been focused on building our efforts toward stronger food justice advocacy.  We have long offered garden, nutrition and youth garden education for the purpose of building community food security, and we are ready to take our efforts a step further.  Towards that end, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Tucson, Arizona for the “Closing the Hunger Gap” conference.  The conference focused on the important role that emergency food providers and food policy advocates play in building a healthy, just food system.
I was drawn to the conference because over my almost 7 years of working with Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard I have noticed a divide, especially on the national level, between emergency food providers and those working to build a more sustainable food system.  It is not a difficult divide to understand, as the work of providing emergency food is logistically intensive and leaves time for little else.  I have always been honored to be a part of an organization that was founded with a mission that involved so much more than emergency food, and I felt the Hub’s presence and program experiences would fit in well as the conference worked to build an agenda to bridge emergency food providers and food justice advocates.
The conference was hosted by the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, and the first day included tours lead by food bankers.  I chose the Cultivating Resilient Communities tour, which included a soup kitchen with a strong advocacy program, a community farm, a school with an incredible garden and farmer’s market program, and a project of the food bank’s home gardening program.  I was particularly blown away by the extent of food security work the food bank is involved in, from standard food banking to urban farming and connecting folks with assistance programs such as TANF (cash assistance) and SNAP (food stamps).  I particularly enjoyed visiting Las Milipitas, a community farm project associated with the food bank, where neighbors of the farm grow food and youth get involved in farm training apprenticeships.  This tour in particular gave me many ideas to bring back to Bloomington and MHC’s Crestmont Community Garden, which has endless opportunities for community engagement.
The second day was full of moving talks by key players in the food movement such as food policy advocate, author, and professor Jan Poppendieck, and author and professor Gary Paul Nabhan as well as workshops on pressing issues in the food banking and food policy worlds.  My first session discussed “policy partnerships” and what we as emergency food programs can do to influence policy that affects hunger and poverty.  I was blown away by the policy work being done at Gleaners Food Bankin Detroit, and Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland.  In Alameda County food bankers build relationships with elected officials, and share advocacy efforts with member agencies.  They also engage in community organizing, and have a client advocacy group, “Community Advocates Against Hunger”.
Next I chose a workshop detailing the Oregon Food Bank’s F.E.A.S.T. program, a successful method for building community around issues of food insecurity and hunger.  FEAST workshops engage community members in facilitated discussions about food security and help community members to build an agenda for taking action.   I was thrilled to bring this information and model back home to share with ourBloomington Food Policy Council, as they work toward building community cohesion around food issues.  My final workshop was Hands-On Food Security Evaluation, which detailed the many different ways to track impact in food programs.  I was particularly excited by the RE-AIM (Reach, Effect, Adoption of Program, Implementation, Maintenance) method, which is a widely accepted evaluation method for public health, and may be a new way MHC can measure the impact of our nutrition and gardening programming.
The conference concluded with a day of keynotes and agenda setting for the next steps needed to begin making deeper change in the food system.  In his keynote, food policy advocate and author Mark Winne called for “fierce, respectful debate” and a mixture of direct service and education toward creation of systemic change in the food system.   I left the conference with a renewed vision for MHC’s education and outreach programming, the first step of which is a community meeting addressing pantry issues with a call out for folks interested in creating a patron council.  The goal of the patron council is to create a space for food pantry patrons to address deeper issues of hunger and poverty.
Are you interested in working with the Hub to create systemic change in the food system?  Contact me, Stephanie, at or call 812-338-5887x.200.

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