‘Local Food, Local Hunger’ focuses on food as medicine
The fourth annual “Local Food, Local Hunger” community forum on March 3 at Chewonki Foundation focused on the difficulty low-income families face getting wholesome food. According to the organization Wholesome Wave, the foods low-income families can afford tend to be less nutritious and may have additives that aren’t good for children or adults – too much salt and sugar, and poor-quality fats and grains. So Wholesome Wave began the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, or FVRx, in several locations, including Skowhegan, in 2010.
According to handouts from Wholesome Foods and information in a video, the goal was to see if participants, mostly families with children, could reach target recommendations for consuming fruits and vegetables if doctors said for them to have fresh food. The families who came to a clinic got a voucher to use at area grocery stores and farmer’s markets. The voucher was good for about $1 per person in the family, per day. Seven years into the program, 93 percent of participants are reaching fruit and vegetable recommendations, there has been a 206 percent increase in individual vegetable consumption, and 45 percent of households have increased their food security.
With that in mind, Rep. Chellie Pingree submitted legislation to expand the program to more sites. In December, Pingree hosted a briefing on the produce prescription programs. Launching a national produce prescription pilot program called Harvesting Health is one provision of HR 3491, the Local FARMS Act, a bipartisan bill Pingree introduced with Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Patrick Maloney (D-NY) to increase consumer access to healthy food in the farm bill. While Pingree was not at the forum, her aide Emily Horton presented a video from Pingree discussing the program and other elements of the Local FARMS Act, which would help farmers tap into local and regional markets, including at schools, and address the lack of local processing plants for meat and poultry. The act would also help farmers transition to organic agriculture, implement food safety rules, make existing food programs more efficient, expand food and agriculture education programs, and give veterans food vouchers.
Gleaning – removing unmarketable foods from local farms to feed the hungry – has been increasing in scope. Locally, last year, volunteers gathered tens of thousands of pounds of fresh produce that would have been plowed under. Removing the fruit and vegetables also helps farmers do their fall cleanup more easily. Some farmers are dedicating acreage to grow food specifically for gleaning.
A new group, Lincoln County Gleaners, under the auspices of Lara Cogar, will hold an informational meeting at 6 p.m. April 26 at Morris Farm. Its sister organization, Merrymeeting Gleaners, run by Michelle Rines and Deborah Goodwin, has expanded the number of farms it works with and the number of volunteers who go out to work on the farms. It also used a Common Good grant from Bowdoin College in Brunswick to buy a trailer to refrigerate delicate foods, such as salad greens. Both Merrymeeting and Lincoln County hope to increase their volunteer base this summer and possibly add processors, who can freeze fruit and vegetables or can jams, jellies and sauces for winter distribution. In addition to food pantries, the organizations have been distributing through libraries, some stores, and other sites where people gather. If interested in joining the Lincoln County Gleaners, email LCGleanersME@gmail.com to register for the informational session.
Much was discussed about how to develop programs in schools to ease child hunger, educate students about nutrition and focus the attention of youth on hunger prevention programs. Senior food insecurity was also addressed, as were incentive programs through local supermarkets that reward shoppers with free or inexpensive items weekly.
The panel discussion addressed the effects of malnutrition on the health of seniors and children. Panelists were Dr. Chip Teel of Eldercare Network of Lincoln County and Dr. Tim Goltz of Lincoln Medical Partners Family Medicine.