Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hunger Coalition begins local food study

Group seeks accurate data on need and resources

Express Staff Writer

Hunger Coalition staff give food items to Wood River Valley residents at one of the organizationís distribution stations. Express file photo

    The Hunger Coalition is initiating a nearly year-long study on food in Blaine County, with the intent of compiling data to better inform decisions on food-related issues.
    According to The Hunger Coalition’s website, its community food assessment will take a detailed look at the social, economic and institutional factors that affect quantity and quality of food available locally, as well as its affordability.
    Similar food assessments have already been completed in many counties throughout the United States.
    In a press release dated Oct. 22, The Hunger Coalition stated that the local study will address questions such as:

  • How many people are facing hunger in the Wood River Valley?
  • How far is our food traveling to get here?
  • How much food comes from local and regional farmers?
  • How do our food prices compare to other counties?
  • What kinds of foods are being served in our public institutions?

    The food assessment will be carried out with the help of Boise State University’s Public Policy Research Center.
    In 2014, The Hunger Coalition served an average of 215 families per month, or 518 people. That’s a 37 percent increase in the number of people served over 2013, when the organization served an average of 379 people per month.
    However, organization Executive Director Jeanne Liston said she suspects those figures understate the number of hungry people in Blaine County. She said that due to the perceived stigma attached with accepting free food, there are probably many people unwilling to take advantage of The Hunger Coalition’s services.
    Dr. Peter Kern, a member of a committee being assembled to advise the assessment process, said the data being used to make local policy on food questions is “incomplete at best.” Kern said he’d like to know, for example, what local children are eating and how their diets could be made more healthy.
    During a presentation to the county commissioners last week, Liston said the study will also assess the productive capacity of agricultural land in the county.
    The commissioners expressed support for the study’s goals.
    “The Blaine County comp plan supports agriculture at many levels,” Commissioner Larry Schoen said.
    Liston said she expects the study’s findings to be available in August or September. She said the implementation of activities suggested by the study could go on for many years after that.
    “This is really a long-term effort,” she said.
    Liston said food assessments in other communities have resulted in:

  • Farm-to-school programs.
  • School gardens.
  • Community commercial kitchens, which provide space for small-scale food entrepreneurs.
  • Food hubs, where locally produced food is processed and stored.
  • Curbside composting.

    In response to a question from Commissioner Jacob Greenberg, Liston said a goal of the assessment will be to reduce the prices of locally produced food.
    Liston said data on people’s attitudes and activities regarding food will be compiled with the help of surveys and focus groups.
    “We want to involve the community in this process,” she said.

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