A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the “Gem Community FEAST (Food, Education, Agriculture Solutions Together)” meeting at the local country seed (“Gem Community” is a reference to Gem Country where I live).
This meeting brought together concerned citizens, local city and country government officials, non-profit leaders, and faith groups to look at the food system in our area.
It was a time of assessing the local food system (production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste) as well as the food security of the community.
Food Security is a “condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximized community self-reliance and social justice.” (-Mike Hamm and Anne Bellows)
With an unemployment rate of 12.4% (July 2011) and an overall county poverty of 14.8% (2009 US Census), food security is a big concern in our area. Our only saving grace is that we are a rural county with room for people to grow gardens and run a few head of cattle (not to mention chickens, goats and hogs).
Yet, even with that ‘luxury’ there is still a big need in our community (God Community Food Pantry in Sweet is currently serving around 400 folks a month – granted a lot of those people come from neighboring counties as Sweet lays near the county line).
After a few main sessions assessing the food needs of Gem County, the delegates were broken up into four different workshops:
- Mobility and Transportation: Accessing Fresh, Affordable Food
- Resources and Solutions: Making the Connections
- Growing Jobs in the Rural Food System
- Gem Community Food System: Farm to Fork
My workshop of choice was the “Mobility and Transportation” as Sweet is cut off from the rest of the county via a windy road through a canyon next to the Payette River. In fact, this “isolation” became evident in the way the meeting organizers approached things throughout the Community FEAST (i.e. they mainly focused on issues within Emmett, which is the local county seed and the largest town in the county).
The other sad thing about the meeting/workshop was the lack of ‘on-the-ground’ action items. There were several non-profit representatives there who were focused on networking with other non-profit groups and/or government groups to a view change public polices and what not… good things, mind you… but it got to the point in which I finally stood up and asked them how all their theories and networks were going to feed people today and tomorrow.
Tension of the here and not yet….
On one hand you want to met the physical needs of the people today – yet on the other hand there is a realization that unless something is done on the systematic policy front, the problem will always be there and nothing will be fixed long-term. I guess this is why it is important to have people of all types at these meeting. It is a both/and approach and not an either/or deal.
Well, we shall see what happens as the conversation has just began. Our “Mobility and Transportation” workgroup is going to met together at the end of October to see how things are going. One step at a time….