Take Your Place at the Table: A Local Living Economy for All

Flyer-MFC-TYPWhen we set our table with locally grown, locally made and nutritious food — choices that support our health and our local economy — who isn’t getting a place at that table? This fall and into the winter, our community will bring more attention to this question, by hosting a series of events using the film “A Place at the Table” as the launching point for community conversations.  The goal is to inspire collective community action to address hunger, obesity and food policy– on both the local and national level — so that all individuals have access to healthy food and a great quality of life, our definition of a rich Local Living Economy.

Who doesn’t have a place at the table?  In the United States, fifty million people — including one in five children — suffer from hunger, while two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and adolescents are obese or overweight.  In Cheshire County, one in ten people live below the poverty line, while 28% of residents are obese.

But aren’t hunger and obesity separate issues?  Not in the United States, where there’s a strong connection between hunger and obesity in lower-income families living in underserved communities.  Why? High-quality, nutritious food costs more than unhealthy food choices. For instance, while the price of soda has fallen 33% over the last 30 years, the price of fruits and vegetables has increased by more than 40%.

Communities are working to address these issues by giving people better access to healthy food.  On Tuesday, September 24, 6:30 – 9pm at the Keene Public Library, you are invited to our community’s “Take Your at the Table” Kick-Off event.  After viewing the film “A Place at the Table,” we’ll highlight ways that our community is currently working to make healthy food more affordable and discuss action steps individuals can take.  In future events, we’ll focus on more efforts, have more discussion and offer more action steps we can all take.

On September 24th, we’ll highlight two efforts that build upon a national food assistance program, called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, to make healthy food within reach for more people:  The Double Up Veggie Bucks Program at the Farmers’ Market of Keene and Healthy Food for All Program at the Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene.

This spring, the Farmers’ Market of Keene partnered with the Cheshire County Conservation District to launch its “Double Up Veggie Bucks” Program doubling the value of SNAP benefits spent at the market, up to $10 each market day.  With the average SNAP benefit amounting to just $9 per day, per household, this program doubles the buying power of participants.

Programs like this one are in 25 states and at over 300 farmers markets.  In 2012, 40,000 people purchased fresh, healthy produce from local farmers. “Thanks to this program, brand new individuals are coming to the farmers market for the very first time,” shared Amanda Littleton from the Cheshire County Conservation District.  “We’re getting food out to a population who once only saw the farmers market as inaccessible.”

On average, this program amounts to 27% of total sales at participating markets and last year stimulated nearly $2.4 million of purchases.  “$2,500 has come to the Farmers’ Market of Keene since the end of July,” said Market Manager Nancy McGartland. Once more learn about this effort, participation will grow.

The Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene is launching its “Healthy Food for All” Program this fall, which provides individuals receiving SNAP benefits a 10% discount on their purchases.  The Co-op’s healthy food access program is connected to a larger push by our region’s food co-ops to make healthy food access a priority, coordinated by the Cooperative Fund of New England, a community loan fund serving co-ops and community-based nonprofits, and the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA), a regional network of over 30 food co-ops and startup initiatives across New England.  “The co-op movement has a long history of empowering working people to meet their needs through democratically controlled, community-based businesses,” said Bonnie Hudspeth from NFCA.  “Because food co-ops are owned by and accountable to their community members, they are well positioned to expand the benefits of healthy food and co-op ownership in low-income communities.”

At City Market/Onion River Co-op in Burlington, more than 1,140 individuals and families are enrolled in their “Food for All” Program.  Their success, in part, is credited to the partnerships the Co-op formed with local nonprofits, who helped spread the word about this program to people it could serve.

These are just two of the many efforts in our community to make change at the local level.  There’s much more happening — and much more to do.  At the national level, policy change is critical to cultivating a food system that addresses healthy food access, livable wage, subsidies, and other issues that impact communities. At the local level, the work of food banks, school lunch programs, food co-op co-ops, farmers markets, and other grassroots efforts to address hunger and access to healthy food need your support.

Save the date of September 24th and find out how you can address the issues of hunger, obesity and food policy now at www.takepart.com/table or call 855-48TABLE.  Take your place at the table, with healthy food for all.