For our final post in this series on Good Food in our Community, we will discuss food distribution and the social aspect of equalizing food access and food choices.
While there are complex structural issues that limit the availability of Good Food for all (such as the “access” issues discussed in our first blog post), many advocates cite food distribution as one of the most inequitable. Distribution is complicated and it affects (and is affected by) many different variables such as policy, geography, market prices and supply chains, transportation, and the economy at large; which is why many communities are starting to seek more autonomy in building smaller, more localized food economies, where distribution can be addressed on more of a regional or town-based scale.
However, parallel to that movement and longer-term process is the immediate need for food to be available--so that hungry stomachs can be filled and so that people can live healthy and active lives on a day-to-day basis. To that end, we are grateful for the many ways in which our community provides free food distribution, resources, and support to neighbors seeking food assistance. For the past eight and a half years, the Simmering Pot has organized free meals at the Congregational Church in Blue Hill, welcoming over 100 people each week for a nutritious meal (usually soups in the winter and salads in the summer). In addition to free seeds and seedlings, the Tree of Life provides perishable and nonperishable goods, including Maine-grown produce supplied by Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Mainers Feeding Mainers program. Thanks to the Magic Food Bus, Edible Island also connects the Island Food Pantry (a long-standing resource for primarily nonperishable and frozen foods) with locally-grown fruit and vegetables each Thursday during the summer. This produce serves as an added bonus to the weekly prepared food samples we offer to pantry recipients throughout the year, which feature seasonal produce and other pantry products (such as dried fruit and nuts) that are in high supply but low demand. We offer a variety of smoothies, salads, sautes, and more to pantry patrons and volunteers as they wait to be served, and we enjoy the conversations that ensue about similar foods they’ve made in the past, old family food traditions, and ideas for customizing the featured dish.
We believe physical access to Good Food is essential, yet often it is not enough; in our work, we have found that each person’s relationship with food is unique, and that social support can play an important role in shifting one’s attitude toward healthy food. This is where the “social access” piece of the food security definition becomes particularly relevant. There are several local organizations working to address this, such as Eastern Area Agency on Aging (via Good Shepherd Food Bank and Healthy Peninsula) which provides food supplement and socialization for seniors through commodity food box drop-offs. They also organize monthly food solutions “clinics” at the Blue Hill Hospital, where food assessments determine root causes of each individual’s/family’s food insecurity; in other words, how did they reach the point of requiring emergency or ongoing food assistance? Many Food Security meeting attendees discussed how prolonged food insecurity can damage mental health, and that the emotional stress of failing to provide for one’s family may cause significant anxiety and depression; which may, in turn, inhibit one's ability to procure the resources they need. Community Compass has long recognized this dangerous cycle and employs neighborhood “navigators” to find people in need of services who may not otherwise step forward and then link them with available resources such as food distribution sites. These navigators succeed by understanding what life is like for their neighbors and by building relationships that are based on trust. One of the lesser-known services that Community Compass promotes is the free financial coaching that is available through the Washington-Hancock Community Agency; an example of how both immediate and long-term efforts toward food security may be addressed through social support. Additionally, as people are matched with food assistance services such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), they may also participate in the Maine Harvest Bucks program, which provides vouchers for bonus fruit and vegetables with SNAP purchases made at participating farmers’ markets across the State. The Blue Hill Farmers’ Market (via Healthy Acadia) provides this benefit in our region each Saturday morning at the Fairgrounds. Edible Island hopes to expand the availability of Maine Harvest Bucks to more Island residents in the near future--stay tuned for details.
Looking back, we see that the groups represented at the food security meeting--Edible Island, Healthy Acadia, Healthy Peninsula, Tree of Life, Community Compass, Simmering Pot, Eastern Area Agency on Aging, and farmers from Surry and Brooksville, among others who weren't able to attend--have all created programming that grows, shares, and promotes good food through community. We appreciate the work of our colleagues and hope to gather together again as food security advocates in the near future. Until then, we hope you’ll seek out their services or recommend them to a friend or neighbor who may need some extra support, or that you’ll find a way to support or volunteer to expand access to Good Food. Please reach out with any questions about the opportunities mentioned above, or consult the Hancock County-wide Community Resource Guide at www.communityresourceguide.org.