Grant helps Goodman Center tackle seasonal barriers to healthy, local food
By Nora Hertel | Fri, 03/23/2012 - 1:00am
“In the summertime, we have more than enough. In the wintertime, we don’t have nearly enough. We’re seasonally challenged here in Wisconsin,” said Chris Brockel, Food and Gardens Division Manager for Community Action Coalition (CAC).
CAC collects fresh food from local farmers and gardeners, as well as the USDA, and distributes that food to pantries around Dane, Jefferson, and Waukesha counties. They want to make fresh and local food available to low-income clients, but they struggle to do so in the winter.
“Low-income people just don’t have access to healthy food through food pantries. Food pantries historically and unfortunately have developed this culture of not really providing healthy foods, but providing foods that were shelf-stable,” said Kathy Utley, Food Resources Manager at the Goodman Center.
Boxed and canned foods occupy an important place on food pantry shelves. But Utley explained, many customers have special dietary needs and high sugar and sodium levels in shelf-stable products can exacerbate their health problems.
According to an informal survey at the Goodman center, nearly every visitor to the pantry reported dietary restrictions for a member of the household. The center serves elderly clients, as well as families with children.
“People who rely on food pantries to supplement or provide all their nutrition are very vulnerable and need to have nutritional food just like anybody does,” Utley said.
A forthcoming project at the Goodman Center and its Fritz Food Pantry will address both the seasonal and health challenges associated with offering shelf-stable products. The center will soon begin preserving foods from local gardens and the CAC. A grant from the USDA, awarded at the end of 2011, will fund the Goodman Center’s Canning and Freezing Project for the next three years.
“Excess food that is in our cooler…we’ll be diverting that to [the Goodman Center] for their commercial kitchen and the youth training program. They’ll be canning that up – or freezing,” Brockel said.
Goodman Center staff are gearing up for the project. Utley explained they are developing recipes and will begin preserving foods with the spring harvest in April, May, and June.
“From an organizational standpoint, that will give us a good idea of where we need to develop, because the majority of processing larger amounts of produce will be in the Fall,” Utley said .
Utley joined the Goodman Center a year and a half ago, and she credits the project to Executive Director, Becky Steinhoff’s “wonderful vision.” Steinhoff wrote the grant proposal for the Canning and Freezing Project.
“I think we’ve become the leaders in this arena. I do know that other food pantries are listening and watching," she said. "We’re leading the charge.”
And the Center won't be doing it alone. Teenagers will learn to can and freeze food as part of their vocational track for the TEENworks program at the Center. The program, which serves as an alternative education site cooperating with East High School, educates local teens in professional and life skills that also help the community. Participating teenagers, volunteers, and adults with disabilities will also be a part of the initial group preserving food at the center.
As they develop recipes to make shelf-stable foods from local produce, Utley and Goodman Center staff make sure to limit added sugar and salt to preserved products. These products, processed on a small scale, will also avoid added preservatives and maintain healthy doses of fiber and plant proteins.
“People should have the right to access not just food, but healthy foods," Brockel said. "I want to make sure that everybody gets to participate in it."
The canning and freezing program will allow more people of lower income levels to be a part of the local food system and consume local, healthy food all year round.
“We’re going to create low-income, food pantry foodies,” Utley said.
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