Local, state organizations address food insecurity for Hunger Action Month

Courtesy/Dan Cepeda Volunteers from University of Wyoming Extension programs, the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC), the Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP) and Food Bank of Wyoming partner together to harvest more than 10,000 potatoes for Wyoming families facing food insecurity near Lingle for National Hunger Action Month.

GOSHEN COUNTY – September was National Hunger Action Month; several local and state organizations, along with citizens – young and old – have come together to ensure all of Goshen County and Wyomingites are being nourished.

According to Feeding America (FA), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing food scarcity and hunger with local nonprofit organizations, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 34 million Americans, of which nine million are children, are considered to be “food insecure”; meaning, those individuals make impossible decisions about whether they keep something like the lights on, or they eat dinner that day.

“The pandemic has increased food insecurity among families with children,” Feeding America wrote in a press release. “Every community in the country is home to families who face hunger – but rural communities are especially hard hit by hunger.”

Adding, “Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and visit their local food banks and other food programs for extra support.”

According to Wyoming data, roughly 30% of Goshen County residents are at risk of experiencing food insecurity.

According to data provided from the USDA, published on Sept. 13, Goshen County is the eleventh most affected county in Wyoming facing food insecurity.

Roughly 15% of Goshen County children face food insecurity daily, which is only 1.1% lower than the national average of both rural and urban communities; the total food insecurity rate for adults and children within the county is 10.4%, which is just 1.4% lower than the national average.

In Goshen County, as food prices continue to soar due to higher gas prices, inadequate food supplies due to trucker shortages and supply chain issues due to a variety of factors – residents in the county spend an average of $3.07 per meal. According to the USDA, the total food budget shortfall in the county is $686,000.

Although food insecurity is a growing concern in Wyoming, the state as a whole ranks 35 among all states due to lower population density and higher agricultural industries helping.

In a press release, the University of Wyoming Extension and its College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources announced potatoes from the second annual potato harvest are making its way to tables across Wyoming for families facing food insecurity and families who don’t qualify for food assistance programs.

“More than 10,000 pounds of potatoes from the second annual potato harvest at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) are in distribution across the state via Food Bank of Wyoming,” UW SAREC Spokeswoman Brooke Ortel wrote.

“The potato harvest is a partnership between two University of Wyoming Extension programs, SAREC and the Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP), along with Food Bank of Wyoming,” Ortel explained. “The goal is to provide Wyoming-grown produce to families facing food insecurity.”

According to Ortel, CNP is a “hands-on cooking, nutrition and physical activity program that serves income-qualifying families across Wyoming.”

CNP Director Mindy Meuli wrote, “The potato harvest is a natural partnership between CNP and UW Extension Agricultural Experiment Stations, like SAREC.”

Adding, “the potato harvest is a natural partnership between CNP and UW Extension agricultural experiment stations like SAREC. This is an incredible opportunity to connect locally grown food from SAREC to the families we serve in Wyoming,”

Food Bank of Wyoming Spokeswoman Jes Stanbury wrote, “Food Bank of Wyoming has partnered with two University of Wyoming Extension programs to get locally grown potatoes onto the tables of Wyoming families.”

Continuing, “Through efforts by the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) and the Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP), over 10,000 pounds of potatoes were harvested and bagged on September 24th at SAREC, outside Lingle, and donated to Food Bank of Wyoming.”

Food pantries across the state and in Goshen County rely on these sorts of programs and donations from residents to be able to provide families with fresh produce and meats.

“Fresh produce adds variety to the staples offered by food pantries but can be risky due to spoilage,” Ortel stated. “Donating local produce helps mitigate this risk and products like potatoes are especially desirable due to their long shelf life and hardiness during transport.”

The 2022 potato harvest was made possible through the efforts of more than 30 volunteers who bagged potatoes in a SAREC field near Lingle on Sept. 24.

“Volunteers included graduate students and faculty from the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources; faculty and staff from UW Extension and SAREC; Master Gardeners; church youth groups; and women from the Wyoming Women’s Center,” Ortel detailed.

Food Bank of Wyoming Programs Spokeswoman Samantha Maxwell wrote, “it is wonderful to see people coming together to serve all of the communities across Wyoming.”

“With the severe challenges communities are facing to provide for their families, we are thankful for UW Extension, SAREC and CNP striving to help fight against hunger.”

CNP Manager Kali McCrackin wrote, “we are so thankful for all the volunteers who came out to help bag potatoes and are thrilled to have surpassed our goal.” 

The donated potatoes are grown as part of UW outreach efforts at SAREC and in 2021, roughly 6,500 pounds of potatoes were donated to Food Bank of Wyoming. This year, the program almost doubled the amount of potatoes it produced and donated to 10,920 pounds of potatoes, exceeding its goal of 10,000 pounds for 2022.

“SAREC is glad to collaborate with the Cent$ible Nutrition Program and many local volunteers to make this happen,” SAREC Research Scientists Brian Lee wrote. “This continues to be a good program for the state and local communities.”

Adding, “We appreciate all of the help from the SAREC staff growing and harvesting the potatoes and we look forward to continuing this in the future.”

The potatoes harvested and transported from SAREC are available for food pantries and other partners through Food Bank of Wyoming; potatoes will also be distributed by mobile food pantries throughout the state to reach more rural areas.

Additionally, CNP is working with local food pantries to provide families with recipes and resources for using, story and cooking potatoes safely.

Food Bank of Wyoming Executive Director Rachel Bailey wrote, “We are thankful to the University of Wyoming Extension programs, SAREC and Cent$ible Nutrition Program, for the donation of locally grown potatoes to benefit our Wyoming neighbors in need.”

“With higher inflation and fuel prices, many families are seeking food assistance for the first time, so these potatoes will be a welcome addition to our distributions to Hunger Relief Partners this fall,” Bailey explained.

Stanbury added, “the potatoes, usually grown for outreach efforts with local schools, were bagged and packed onto pallets.”

“The local partnerships of the potato harvest make this a special project all the while reducing the burden of hunger in Wyoming,” Stanbury further explained. “Food Bank of Wyoming’s involvement in the potato harvest goes hand-in-hand with September’s Hunger Action Month.”

However, some of Goshen County’s youngest residents also donated much needed food to residents at risk of facing food insecurity which will be in an upcoming Telegram story. That story will feature 9-year-old Eli Case’s efforts to donate meat to Goshen County’s Friendship Center in Torrington as part of Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, First Lady Jennie Gordon’s partnership with the Wyoming State Fair’s Fair to Fork program.

Additionally, an updated Telegram story will feature Land of Goshen Ministries (LOGM) with its updates and how the local nonprofit is striving to also address food insecurity in the county; the ministry is having a silent auction of vintage items to raise money for its programs.

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