Addressing Food Insecurity: Three Local Food-Assistance Programs Helping Neighbors

According to the United Way ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained, Employed) Report, in 2014 roughly half the population of the city of Eau Claire fell below the ALICE Threshold, meaning they were either living below federal poverty levels or earned more than federal poverty level but less than the basic cost of living for the county.1   Food insecurity is also increasing in Eau Claire County. In 2005, only about 5 percent of the population was receiving FoodShare, the Wisconsin food benefits program. By 2012, that percentage had risen to over 19 percent. Poverty and food insecurity are interrelated.

Poverty increases the risk of food insecurity and hunger. Food-secure households have enough safe and nutritious food for an active healthy life at all times. In contrast, food-insecure households have uncertain access to food. Due to lack of money, they may run out of food, cut back the size of meals, or skip meals altogether. Hunger and food insecurity, in turn, are linked to other problems. For children, these include poor health, and behavioral, learning, and academic problems. Impoverished adults often report choosing between medication, rent, heat, transportation, or food. Food-insecure seniors are more than twice as likely to report bad health as food-secure seniors.2
Local Food-Assistance Programs Offer Help
Community Table
Through the cooperation of the area food bank, several local businesses, churches, and other groups of volunteers, one meal a day is served every day of the year, with no special screening or permission needed to have a meal at Community Table, 320 Putnam Street in Eau Claire. Each day about a dozen volunteers work three hours to prepare the meal for around 120 guests.3 The Community Table began in 1993. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the meal is served between 11:30 am and 1:00 pm. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, a great meal is available between 5:00 and 6:15 pm. Sunday dinner is available between 3:00 and 4:00 pm.

Rachel Keniston has been concerned about food insecurity in Eau Claire, working at the Community Table since 2008, becoming its director in 2010, and recently retiring from it. “Food is one of our most basic needs, regardless of our financial situation,” she says.

However, Keniston noticed that as volunteer groups brought food to share in the early days of Community Table, some of the food was not as nutritious as it could be. The group then partnered with Target to use some of their past-date produce. She explains: “At the Community Table we were able to partner with several local businesses who donated fresh produce when it was past its shelf life but still good. Vegetables are now a component in many tasty dishes served to guests.”

Feed My People Food Pantry
Another local hunger-relief program is Feed My People (FMP)Food Bank, operating since 1982. FMP links food producers and suppliers with individuals and families who are food insecure. At this time FMP is the only food bank in this part of the state, supplying food to over 125 organizations in fourteen counties. In those fourteen counties, “69,950 people live in poverty according to 2010 Poverty and Population estimates from the US Census Bureau. This is a 76 percent increase from data recorded in the 2000 census.”4 The food bank is especially helpful to those who may not qualify for government food assistance but still need help with obtaining food. One at-risk group is young children. “According to U.S. Census Bureau, one in five children in west central Wisconsin experience food insecurity. Many struggle with hunger when school meals are not available.5 Another high-risk group is seniors. “Among food pantry clients 65 and older, more than half reported visiting a pantry on a monthly basis, the highest of any age group.”6 Visit www.fmpfoodbank.org/get_help.phtml to find the food bank location closest to you and its hours, or call 2-1-1. You can call ahead for help with completing your application (Contact Tami at 715-835-9415 ext. 106 or Christine at 715-835-9415 ext. 108.), or you can enroll when you stop in during operating hours.

FoodShare and Market Match Token Program at Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market
FoodShare Wisconsin is a government program to help those who are food insecure and to improve nutrition and health. People with limited income who qualify for FoodShare are then able to buy the food they need for good health. “They are people of all ages who have a job but have low incomes, are living on small or fixed income, have lost their job, retired or are disabled and  not able to work.”7 To learn more about FoodShare Wisconsin and how to apply go to access.wi.gov, where you can fill out an online application.

The Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market has been growing and thriving since 1994. Beginning in 2015, the market has been offering a program to further assist those on FoodShare have access to healthy local food. It’s called Market Match. As part of the program where market shoppers can buy tokens (with credit or debit cards) to then buy market goods, the Market Match program provides a“one-to-one match to farmers’ market patrons who use their FoodShare benefits at the farmers market, up to $10 per week. That means, when a farmers market patron spends $10 of their FoodShare benefit at the farmers market, they receive an extra $10, in the form of wooden tokens, to spend on fresh, local food at the market.”8 This program not only helps low-income shoppers, but also helps vendors to sell more. In 2015, 288 people used the Market Match program and $5,903 of matching funds were used to help families in need buy healthy food. To use the program, look for the table at the farmers market, an assistant will help you obtain Market Match tokens with your FoodShare card. Then you shop! If you don’t use them all on one visit, you can use them at a subsequent visit.This program is sponsored by several area businesses.

Sources:
1. https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/unitedwaywi.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/files/Eau_Claire_County.pdf.
2. www.apl.wisc.edu/resource_profiles/pfs_profiles/eauclaire_2014.pdf.
3. http://thecommunitytable.org/.
4. www.fmpfoodbank.org/whos_hungry.phtml.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.

Cut Your Carbon Footprint with Festival Foods

A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (https://food-hub.org/files/resources/Food%20Miles.pdf) on the environmental effects of agricultural products shipped into the state of California found:

  • “In 2005, the import of fruits, nuts, and vegetables into California by airplane released more than 70,000 tons of CO2, which is equivalent to more than 12,000 cars on the road.”
  • “Today, the typical American prepared meal contains, on average, ingredients from at least five countries outside the United States.”
  • Neighborhoods near airports and other transport centers tend to be inhabited by low-income people of color, making this an environmental justice issue.
  • “Almost 250,000 tons of global warming gases released were attributable to imports of food products—the equivalent amount of pollution produced by more than 40,000 vehicles on the road or nearly two power plants.”
  • “More than 6,000 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides were released into the air—the equivalent of almost 1.5 million vehicles or 263 power plants!”
  • “300 tons of sooty particulate matter were released into the air—the equivalent of more than 1.2 million cars or 53 power plants.”
    “Approximately 950 cases of asthma, 16,870 missed schools days, 43 hospital admissions, and 37 premature deaths could be attributed to the worsened air quality from food imports.”

 

What can you do? Buy local from Festival Foods!

  • Taste the difference–buying local usually means that produce has been picked very recently (usually within the last twenty-four hours)
  • At Festival, we’ve developed unique relationships with our suppliers allowing us to bring fresh produce items from Wisconsin growers straight to you as part of our Days Fresher program.
  • Eating locally allows you to eat seasonally, which often means enjoying produce at peak ripeness.
  • Wondering what’s at peak ripeness? Check the “Peak This Week” feature at FestFoods.com where you’ll find out what’s in season and at peak, what’s coming up, what’s out of season, and what to watch.
  • Although transportation times are increasingly getting shorter, local produce often takes less time to get from field to fork.
  • After harvest, some nutrients in fruits and vegetables may degrade over time. Antioxidants, like vitamins A, C, and E, and B-vitamins, like vitamin B6 and thiamin, are particularly susceptible.
  • Loss of nutrients is inevitable but can be managed or reduced with proper storage.
  • Ideal storage conditions (temperature, humidity, lighting, etc.) can vary quite a bit based on the fruit or vegetable.
  • Our knowledgeable produce experts at Festival can help provide information on proper storage.

 

Emily Schwartz, MS, RDN, CD – Western Wisconsin Regional Dietitian at Skogen’s Festival Foods.

You Can’t Beat Beets!

As we slog through these winter months, the choices of fresh local vegetables become fewer. But just when you thought all was almost lost, root vegetables come to the rescue, and beets are the star players of the root vegetable team. Whether you kept yours in the garden under special mulch or safely stored in your root cellar, or if you purchase yours at a local winter farmers market or from an organic produce section in your grocery store, you can count on beets to be a great part of a late-winter meal.

Beets have been around for a long time, and I don’t mean the ones you still have from LAST winter! “Beets are an ancient, prehistoric food that grew naturally along coastlines in North Africa, Asia, and Europe. Originally, it was the beet roots that were consumed; the sweet red beet root that most people think of as a ‘beet’ today wasn’t cultivated until the era of ancient Rome.”1

Beets have many health benefits, including that they:

  • Are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying
  • Fight cancer
  • Help lower blood pressure
  • Boost stamina
  • Are chocked full of vitamins and fiber2

Tip: For a vegetable, beets are high in sugar and carbohydrates, so eat in moderation

For a thorough breakdown of nutritional data on beets, go to http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2348/2.
A Chef’s Take on Beets
Joey Meicher, chef at The Local Lounge in Eau Claire, offers his insight and inspirations regarding beets.

“Beets are an incredible ingredient available almost the entire year. A fall planting, followed by proper storage in the root cellar (or the bottom drawer of your fridge,) results in one of the few ‘fresh’ vegetables that is still available toward the end of winter. Not only are they almost always available, but they are an incredibly versatile ingredient. Beets can be roasted, boiled, pickled, fermented, juiced, canned, sautéed, or even served raw. I love how they are used in so many different ways across a broad spectrum of cuisines.

“The beet + cheese + nuts combination seems to be a staple at almost every restaurant these days (and for good reason), but there are so many other directions to go with this vegetable. Pickled beets are a fantastic accompaniment to Nordic dishes and flavors (salmon, dill, dense rye breads, and cultured dairy products). Borscht is a name that can be applied to any sour Eastern European soup, but most are made with fermented beets. My favorite beet dish is a chilled soup in which fermented beets are pureed with a light broth and topped with raw cucumber, salted cabbage, sour cream, cilantro, mint, and dill. It is incredibly complex while still remaining vibrant and refreshing.

“One must not forget about the greens either! If you have ever grown beets, you know that the greens often need to be thinned out before the beetroot is mature. This is because beet seeds are actually pods that contain about six separate seeds all trying their best to grow into a big, beautiful beet. The easiest way to handle the excess beet greens is to warm a little onion, garlic, and chili in a lot of olive oil, add the washed (but not dried) greens and a splash of vinegar, than let them cook for a few minutes before piling on toast and topping with a fried egg, grated cheese, and maybe a few pickled beets from last year.”

Sources:
1. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/25/beets-health-benefits.aspx.
2. Ibid.

Celebrate Earth Day by Investing in Your Community and Your Health: Join the Forest St. Community Garden!

By Kerri Kiernan, Master Herbalist

This Earth Day, consider giving back to the planet, to your community, and to yourself by joining a local community garden. The Forest Street Community Garden is celebrating its eighth season and is now open to new and returning gardeners; it is located in downtown Eau Claire, just a couple blocks north of Phoenix Park.

The Chippewa Valley is blessed with several existing community gardens offering rental plots for the public. What differentiates the Forest St. Garden from other gardens is that it also offers a Shared Garden that is run jointly by members who share in the work and harvest. The Shared Garden also serves as a learning community for members to gain experience in basic gardening skills, leadership, teaching, coordinating, and community outreach.

Members of the Shared Garden participate in weekly sessions to maintain the nearly half-acre plot as a collaborative effort. Seeds and transplants are started in early spring, and members work together to plan and prepare the garden as the last frost ceases. During the garden season, the work and the produce is shared amongst the contributing members. Extra produce is harvested and donated to the Community Table, which supplements meal services benefiting Eau Claire residents who may not have access to healthy meals due to lack of finances, education, or due to other life situations.

Besides benefiting the community, Shared Gardeners experience a deep sense of connection to their community, to each other, and to the Earth. Social events such as potlucks and gatherings are often held at the Forest St. Garden Pavilion, where members and plot renters spend time together connecting over beautiful meals made from the very veggies they grew together in the garden.

Besides decreasing carbon emissions, gardening helps to increase physical activity and vegetable consumption and also helps to foster a sense of wonder and gratitude for the bounty of nature. The shared struggle of growing one’s own food serves as a relatable conversation topic between people who may otherwise never cross paths nor have much in common. Any gardener can share their own story of patience, diligence, failure, and success, but it’s the commonality of spending so much time in the dirt, paying very close attention to the rhythms of the weather, and savoring the fruits of one’s labor that bring people together through gardening.

Join the Forest St. Community Garden and learn how to grow food together. Prices increase after June 15. Please visit the Forest St. Community Garden website for more information.

 

To Join the Co-op/Shared garden or to rent a plot at the Forest St. Community Garden, please visit: http://eauclairecommunitygardens.com/ or email: eauclairecommunitygarden@gmail.com

Kerri Kiernan is a local Master Herbalist who works with plants from her garden as well as wild weeds from the Chippewa Valley to help people thrive with handmade remedies and personalized herbal consults. Kerri is the owner and operator of a small herbal business, River Prairie Apothecary, located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and is also the founder CommuniTEA, the Herbalism Outreach & Internship Project located downtown Eau Claire at the Forest St. Garden.

Contact Kerri: River Prairie Apothecary on FB: www.facebook.com/riverprairieapothecary/

www.riverprairieapothecary.com/contact.htm.

Resolve to Eat More Plants this New Year!

It’s the start of the New Year and many of us are resolving to take better care of ourselves by eating healthier and exercising more. With the endless amounts of nutrition information out there, it may seem like a challenging task to find the right approach. Luckily, many strategies to eating healthier have one key component in common – eat more plants … or rather, plant-based foods!

Plant-based foods include lots of delicious and nutritious options like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Filling our plates with these types of foods is commonly referred to as plant-based or plant-forward eating. And, plant-based eating serves as the basis for several different popular lifestyle approaches including Mediterranean, vegetarian, vegan and paleo. Although each lifestyle approach is varied and may be appropriate for different individuals, there is a common theme between each – plates are filled with mostly plant-based foods.
Filling our plates with a variety of mostly fruits and vegetables, but also whole grains, nuts or seeds can help promote health and prevent serious medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In fact, followers of the Mediterranean diet, a plant-based approach, have some of the lowest rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease in the world. Enjoying a variety of nutrient dense, plant-based foods can help us achieve and maintain a healthy weight, while promoting long-term health.
Not only do plant-based foods provide a lot of quality nutrients, but plant-based foods also promote sustainability. According to the United States Geological Survey, it takes roughly 2600 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat compared to the 110-250 gallons needed to produce one pound of wheat. With staggering figures like this combined with the knowledge of our steadily growing world population, eating a plant-based diet may promote sustainability.
Resolving to eat more plants this year is the easy part. The “doing” is often a little more challenging. So, here are some ideas to help you make this 2017 resolution easier:

• Remember that all forms matter – meaning that fruits and vegetables, whether they are fresh, frozen, canned or dried or 100% juice, are all important and count toward your daily intake.
• Discover the world of herbs and spices! Add flavor to vegetables, whole grains or beans without adding calories or sodium.
• Experiment with global flavors! Many traditional cuisines from around the world consider plant-based foods staples.
• Magical meat extender! Substitute cooked beans or lentils for half of the meat in some of your favorite recipes for soups, casseroles, meatballs and more
• Sneak in plants! Blend beans into brownies, zucchini into cake or butternut squash into macaroni and cheese for extra nutrition.
• Join Festival’s #halfplateplants campaign for a little support and accountability by sharing pictures of your plates filled with mostly plants on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Looking for even more plant-based or healthy food ideas this New Year? Visit FestFoods.com/health for additional nutrition information, product recommendations, tips and meal ideas.
Emily Schwartz is a nationally accredited, registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN) serving the Eau Claire and La Crosse communities as Festival Foods’ Western Wisconsin Regional Dietitian.