Is eating locally just another status symbol? Get together with certain members of the locavore movement, and you’ll hear conversations about the cost of CSAs and the cost of timeshares, rare heirloom seeds and rare art acquisitions. Troll the aisles of your neighborhood co-op grocery, and you’ll find a strange financial homogeneity in much of the clientele: These are people who can afford a five-dollar pint of strawberries.
Slowly, though, the local food movement is inching toward inclusion. In 20 states, some farmers markets offer double vouchers to folks enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). And now, progressive food shelves are stocking local food.
The Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, aims to provide the poor with access to the best farm-raised local produce by spearheading a local foods drive that spans this year’s growing season. According to the center, in 2011 they have already given out more than 58,000 pounds of food—much of it local.
The center partners with small farmers who make donations based on what is in season and, often, what is in surplus. Most donators are happy to contribute to a cause that is good for the community and prevents their beloved produce from going to waste. So far this year, the food shelf has received a bounty of fresh, local fruits and veggies—mixed greens, rhubarb, radishes, broccoli, beets, green beans, and more.
Each month 700–800 clients—about half of which are African American and a significant number are immigrants—benefit from the food shelf. “There is some justice in the stereotype of the local foods movement as predominantly white and affluent,” says food shelf development coordinator Josh Grinolds in an email. “Access and information go hand in hand with means and wealth. Many of the clients we serve are trying to simply have access to food, period.”
Unfortunately, many traditional programs to feed the hungry do not offer the healthiest options, and this leads to additional problems. “Hunger has received a lot of media attention in recent years and with good reason,” says Grinolds. “Since 2008, visits to Minnesota food shelves have increased by 62 percent.” But that’s not the whole story. He continues:
What people often fail to realize is that obesity is a growing problem as well—particularly among the poor, whose access to healthy, nutritious foods is often sharply limited due to cost. So it is important to think holistically. In addressing one problem (hunger), we don’t want to create another (obesity). For this reason, we are focusing on providing access to fresh, local foods for the underserved populations that are our clients.
Education is part of the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center’s mission as well. In conjunction with their food shelf program, they offer free cooking classes. The classes taught by Simply Good Eating, an extension of the University of Minnesota, complement the center’s desire to promote healthy food for all and eliminate food waste. Says Grinolds:
We recognize that clients may not know how to cook with unfamiliar vegetables such as kale or eggplant or zucchini. If clients end up passing over such vegetables, they will end up in the trash—which is precisely what we are trying to avoid! So if clients are going to experience the benefits of healthy eating, and we are going to help reduce food waste, education is a necessary component of the local foods drive.
The center will host a local foods night on August 18 featuring demonstrations by local chefs and CSA farmers, resource tables, samples of local fruits and vegetables, kid-friendly activities, and live music to raise awareness for the project. The event is free, but backyard and community gardeners who attend are encouraged to donate produce, natch.
UPDATE: Check out Miller-McCune’s story on how local food is making its way into California’s food banks.