Food for thought
Regional Food Summit
The fight for healthy, accessible food is connected to several larger movements, such as environmental sustainability, economics, health, education and equality. The inaugural Regional Food Summit, organized by the Healthy Communities Coalition and held on Oct. 23 in Silver Springs, sought to address each aspect of local food issues in the northwest region of Nevada.
More than 150 people attended, including educators, farmers, health care specialists and others involved with the food spectrum of Nevada. According to Christy McGill, director of the coalition, the summit had several goals, such as making healthy food accessible to the community, encouraging a thriving local food economy, ensuring that local food operations remain sustainable, and establishing a “healthy food system,” “where sustainable growing practices and the value of good nutrition are common knowledge and important to citizens.”
The summit follows up conversations that arose at a workshop in September through the Social Justice Institute (“Justice league,” Sept. 13). U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathy Merrigan delivered a keynote speech via video. Merrigan spoke about the efforts made by regional food advocates, and noted a photograph of two Dayton elementary school students holding potatoes dug from the ground. The photograph was used on the cover of a nationally distributed USDA publication.
“I’m struck by what it says about the investment you’re making in your community through the food hub,” she said. “You’re investing in the next generation of farmers and rangers. You’re investing in healthy kids who grow up to be healthy adults.”
Merrigan also discussed the increase in local farmers’ markets nationwide—5,000 to around 8,000 since 2009—and that the markets now accept SNAP and other food benefits for low-income residents.
“This means greater access to healthy, local food for lower income consumers and a bigger customer base for local farmers and ranchers,” she said.
Quest Lakes, task force facilitator of the Healthy Communities Coalition, said that the benefits programs have been very successful.
“Farmers completely sell out,” she said. “They would leave the market with no vegetables left in their stands. We weren’t sure if people would want to buy things like kale with their food stamps, but they did.”
Collaboration between agencies and organizations was encouraged, because it allows for more progress in less time, Lakes said.
“People were literally in tears because they were so excited and gratified to see this network was really coming together with school gardens and support for more family farms,” she said. “They saw all these things that they had been working in sort of silos and didn’t necessarily feel supported, but now they found people to collaborate with.”
Lakes said that the summit intends to focus on the northwest region, because the state has statewide efforts already in motion. She also said that she hopes other communities will follow the example set by Lyon County, which has been active in integrating food programs into its local school system through initiatives like serving as food pantries and starting student-run gardens.