Food Insecurity in Central Vermont

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On Tuesday, World Food Day, the Central Vermont Food Systems Council had the privilege of partaking in a panel discussion with community leaders at Beth Jacob Synagogue about the state of food insecurity in the region. Roughly 1 in 7 households and 1 in 6 children in Washington County are food insecure, which means they lack access to enough food to fully meet their basic needs at all times.

Hal Cohen, the Executive Director of the Central Vermont Community Action Council, explained that many hardworking Vermonters walk on a fine line, where an event such as an accident or unexpected illness can push them into poverty. In these circumstances, necessary costs such as rent and bills are prioritized over food purchases. Hal explained the crucial role CVCAC’s emergency food shelves play in supplementing the diet of many Central Vermonters struggling with food insecurity. Additionally, he spoke about the promise of CVCAC’s new facility, which will host a community kitchen program aimed at giving new skills to unemployed members of the community and preserving the shelf life of the fresh produce CVCAC receives.

Michelle Wallace, Program Manager at the Vermont Foodbank, added to Hal’s discussion, providing a great overview of what the Foodbank is doing to combat food insecurity in Vermont. Distributing 8 million pounds of food to over 86,000 Vermonters last year, the Foodbank has been at the forefront of combatting hunger in the state. Michelle also spoke about the Foodbank’s own Community Kitchen Academy. It has had great success in maximizing the usage of the fresh produce donations the Foodbank receives and even more in giving valuable job skills to unemployed and underemployed members of the community. Additionally, Michelle highlighted the successful gleaning program that she has overseen. In the past year, volunteers have harvested 400,000 pounds of produce from local farms that would have otherwise gone to waste.

Martin Kemple, the Executive Director of Food Works, a pioneering food education non-profit in Central Vermont, explained his organization’s central mission—to bring hands-on education in food production, nutrition, and preparation to the greater community. He described the vital function Food Works’ farm at Two Rivers Center provides as an educational facility. Moreover, Food Works has worked to make food education a part of the everyday curriculum in schools throughout the region. Martin also highlighted Food Works’ Farm-To-Table program, which makes fresh, sustainably grown produce available to the community at a subsidized rate.

While the CVCAC, Foodbank, and Food Works, have been doing very significant work on the ground, the Central Vermont Food Systems Council has looked at the larger picture of food insecurity in the region. Central Vermont is far from self-sufficient in terms of food production, importing about 95% of its food from places outside of the state’s borders. These vital food imports rely on a network of supply chains, deteriorating infrastructure, and relatively cheap fossil fuels. If something disrupts the status quo and compromises this system, essentially all Vermonters are at risk of becoming food insecure. While Central Vermont may be a long way off from declaring food sovereignty, the local agricultural movement is headed in the right direction. In Washington County, direct to consumer sales of agricultural products rose from 3.6% of total sales in 2002, to 5.6% of total sales in 2007. Moreover, the statewide Farm to Plate Strategic Plan is building the infrastructure to get local food consumption to 10% by 2020 in Vermont. As a whole, there has been a concerted effort to tackle the problem of food insecurity in Vermont, and the Central Vermont Food Systems Council is working to highlight this issue and build a sustainable, dynamic food system in the region.

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