What About Donating Half Your CSA Share to Help Fight Hunger Locally?

Who Is Rachel Keniston?
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.

While she worked at Community Table, Keniston and her family were building a sustainable agriculture farm, Solheim Market Gardens, using permaculture principles, with the mission to grow clean, fresh local produce in ways that respect and build the soil with minimal mechanical cultivation, hoes and hands for weed control, crop rotation and row covers to minimize pest issues. To Keniston and her family, the farm too is part of community building. “We all need healthy food regardless of our income levels. Our community (country and world) also need more small local food producers. It is important that our food not be traveling from all ends of the world, that it not be sprayed with chemicals. The way we grow food is important.”

One of the goals with Solheim Market Gardens was to eventually have a community supported agriculture program. In studying CSA good practices, Keniston was given the advice to not put too much food in the weekly share box. “People feel guilty if they can’t use it all,” she says. “None of us likes to throw good food away. The up side of partnering with a farmer through CSA is that people do eat more vegetables! But too much waste is the number one reason people give for dropping a CSA share.” Keniston read about a farm in Monroe, Wisconsin, that is a nonprofit that grows produce specifically for Feeding America, which distributes produce to food banks. She explains, “Instead of providing shareholders with produce, they grow to give to the food bank. Shareholders can also make donations to help purchase seed, equipment, and labor.”

What Is Her New Idea to Fight Local Food Insecurity?
While pondering both her concern for those experiencing food insecurity and her CSA goals, a light went off in her head. “I started to wonder if it would be possible to offer shareholders the option of subscribing to half a share but then donating the other half to Feed My People Food Bank, which would welcome more produce to share with those in need.” She describes how this would work: “First, could the farmer grow a crop specifically to be donated to a food bank for the food insecure? Yes, of course, but most farmers producing at this level are barely making ends meet themselves. That donation from a farmer would be a little like the poor feeding the poor. My thought was if people are willing to partner with the farmer to help create an economically stable farm operation where members are assured the highest quality produce, then maybe they’d be willing to help the farmer and the food bank by subscribing to a full share but donating half to the food bank.” If thirty half boxes of produce were donated weekly, that would be a big help to Feed My People and to the people coming to the food bank. The farmer could plan ahead of time to grow a large bed of certain vegetables for just that purpose. She explains, “At the end of the season, shareholders who donated could be notified of the total weight of produce they donated and the monetary market value of that produce. This could be used for tax documentation.”

Keniston has high hopes for the project, saying, “If it works this growing season, we would like to expand the effort and encourage other local farmers to join in.”

For more information and to sign up to donate a half share, visit www.solheimwi.com or www.facebook.com/solheim.wi.

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.

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.

Support Farm Fresh

By Emily Schwartz

There’s nothing quite like strolling through a bustling farmers market early on a Saturday morning, basket and cash in hand, looking through the rainbow array of fresh produce. With a growing trend towards locally sourced foods, it’s no wonder why farmers markets are popping up everywhere. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture estimated that the number of farmers markets exploded by over 75% in the past eight years. In 2014, there were over 8,400 markets in cities across the country. And, that growth shows no signs of slowing down!

Don’t want to miss out on the farmers market fun this summer?  Here are several tried-and-true tips for making your trip to the farmers market a success:

►Arrive early. Many vendors bring a limited amount of produce each week, so head to the farmers market early for the best selection. Early morning shopping also often means smaller crowds and more opportunities to chat with farmers and fellow market-goers.

►Cash is king. When heading to a farmers market, remember to bring the cash! Although growing in popularity, most vendors don’t have the capabilities to accept credit or debit cards at this time. Some markets do accept SNAP/EBT cards and WIC vouchers. If in doubt, swing by the ATM before heading to the market. Also, vendors appreciate bills in smaller denomination.

►Bring a bag or a basket. To help keep costs down, it is best practice to bring a reusable bag or basket to carry all of the wonderful items you find. Dont worry if you happen to forget! Vendors will always have a few extras.

►Ask questions. Farmers are farmers because they love the food that they grow. They are incredibly knowledgeable about the fruits of their labor – no pun intended – and enjoy sharing information about their growing practices and favorite preparation techniques.

►Try something new. Farmers markets provide the opportunity to branch out from the traditional Russet potatoes, Roma tomatoes and Red Delicious apples. In fact, many local growers offer more unusual or heirloom varieties of common fruits and vegetables that are more suitable for our Wisconsin climate and growing season. Farmers markets provide the perfect opportunity to try something new like purple carrots or multicolored tomatoes. And, there are frequently samples!

►Get creative. One of the beautiful things about shopping at farmers markets is seasonality. Although farmers are often able to give a good prediction of what will be available in the upcoming weeks, there is little certainty from week to week. So, head to the farmers market with an open mind and prepare to get creative!

►Bring the family. With a bounty of delicious and nutritious foods, the farmers market is the perfect venue to get kids excited about fruits and vegetables. Markets also offer the unique opportunity to learn more about where food comes from, how it is grown and what can be done with it.

►Have fun! There are few activities that are comparable to shopping at a farmers market. Enjoy the lively atmosphere, befriend a farmer and  have fun eating the freshest of foods!

Farmers Market

Farmer Market Facts

Farmers markets in the United States, according to the USDA Marketing Services Division. That number is up 76 percent since 2008. The popularity of farmers markets would not surprise you if you’ve ever been to the downtown market in Eau Claire on a Saturday morning in July.

Why are Farmer Markets so in Demand?

The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture gives several reasons: fresh food tastes better and is healthier, you’re helping the environment by buying local food as well as supporting family farms, you can know where your food comes from and talk to the producers directly, it builds community, and it’s a festive atmosphere, it’s fun!

New at the Markets

At the Downtown Farmers Market watch for a few new vendors this year, who may offer “a different sort” of product than what shoppers have seen there before. The market also hopes to feature some special promotions and give-aways. Not new this year but looking toward next year, Robyn Thibado, Associate Director of WestCAP notes, “We are excited about moving to a new location next year. The City of Menomonie received a grant to build a permanent pavilion that will house the market starting in 2016. The pavilion will be built by the Ludington Guard band shell in Wilson Park, close to the downtown area and the new Menomonie Market Co-op.”

Tokens Program Grows

To make the shopping experience easier, you can swipe your debit, credit, or EBT/FoodShare card in exchange for tokens that can be used to purchase foods. If you have tokens left when you’re done shopping, you can use them next time. They never expire, so if you think you may still have one or two in your change jar, fish them out and bring them along to your first visit of the year. The token program at the Downtown Eau Claire market, in its fourth year, will be expanding for those using EBT/FoodShare cards, thanks to a grant and a gift the program has received. The Menomonie Farmers Market will also begin accepting EBT/FoodShare cards this year.