Community Hunger Solutions
Supported by the People’s Food Co-op Community Fund
In 2003, People’s Food Co-op created the People’s Food Co-op Community Fund (PFCCF) with matching funds from the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation.The fund is intended to support local nonprofits and cooperatives with small grants. Over the years, PFC has funded community gardens, community health care programs, and farm-to-school programs, among others.
The two most recent grants, awarded in 2016, went to Community Hunger Solutions (CHS) of Viroqua and to Growing Home of Rochester. We recently visited with Gary Thompson, the food/farm coordinator of CHS, to find out more about their program. CHS is a “second harvest” organization, gleaning produce from local, organic farmers that is considered unfit for commercial sale and delivering that produce to local food banks, shelters, and community facilities—such as assisted living homes.
Often produce is considered unfit for sale simply because it has a blemish or odd shape. A potato that’s not perfectly spheroid, for example (see photo), would not be accepted in produce departments; though the aesthetically challenged vegetable has all the nutrients of the potato that fits our image of the attractive potato.
|Gary Thompson, food/farm coordinator. Community Hunger Solutions.|
CHS buys such produce from the farmers for pennies on the pound, occasionally working out tax write-offs for the farms. CHS volunteers also go out to the farms to help harvest the produce from the field. CHS maintains a distribution hub where they clean, process, and store the gathered produce until it’s distributed.
Community Hunger Solutions has been in operation since 2013. Local food pantries have eagerly taken up the program and now include more fresh produce in their pantries. CHS now supplies the Hunger Task Force in La Crosse as well as food pantries in La Crosse, Monroe, Vernon, Crawford, and Juneau counties. Total produce delivered through CHS’s distribution partners in 2016 was 351,173 pounds, equivalent to about 292,000 meals.
Fresh food and how to cook it
Once more fresh produce began to show up in local food banks, CHS discovered a need for produce cooking instruction. Thompson notes that many people visiting the food pantries have little experience cooking with fresh produce. “We’ve gotten away from healthy eating as a nation,” Thompson says. “There’s a lost generation almost that’s gotten away from cooking fresh food.”
CHS used the grant from PFCCF for their nutrition education program, bringing nutritionists and local chefs into food pantries to give instruction in food preparation. CHS has put together a manual for food pantry workers on how to display and promote fresh produce. They’ve also put together recipe cards for folks to refer to when they get their produce home.
According to the CHS website, 46 million Americans receive food assistance and are trying to feed themselves on $4 a day. Thompson says that food insecurity issues are not going away, noting that federal and state support services are being cut back. “There are more nonprofit organizations out there, and less funding for all of us.”
CHS is an all-volunteer organization, except for Gary Thompson, and it is always looking for more volunteers and donations. Information about Community Hunger Solutions, including volunteer and charitable giving information, can be found at www.community-hunger-solutions.org/ or call Thompson at (608) 632-2163.
PFCCF grant cycle for 2017
People’s Food Co-op Community Fund will award $3,000 in grants again this year. Applications for the grant are due on June 30. Information and application forms are available at www.pfc.coop/our-co-op/coulee-region-co-op-community-fund/.