Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force: Working to End Food Insecurity in Idaho
The Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force envisions an Idaho where hunger does not exist and there is food security for all.
Founding director Kathy Gardner works to make that vision a reality by developing innovative programs like the Idaho Farmers’ Market Association, the Idaho Hunger-Free Community Initiative and the Food Stamp train-the-trainer curriculum.
Providing invaluable assistance to Kathy for the past year is AmeriCorps VISTA Sarah Graham, who joined Kathy in July, 2011. Sarah has been involved in the creation of a statewide farmer’s market association, has assisted in the development of an interactive online program to help communities increase their food security, and has worked on fine-tuning the train-the-trainer curriculum that is designed to increase available information about the Idaho Food Stamp Program.
The push to create a statewide farmers’ market association has taken a couple years, and Sarah was instrumental in bringing the association together. “There’s no reason we can’t do this,” says Sarah.
She explains, “We have five directors out of the seven regions in Idaho covered. They are our board members right now.” The Association’s articles were incorporated in April, 2012 and with the help of the Idaho Nonprofit Center, their bylaws are being finalized. Once all the legal ends have been tied, the Idaho Farmers’ Market Association will become a non-profit, classified as a 501(c) 3.
Sarah believes that the Association’s strength is derived from its collaborative membership of farmers, farmer’s market managers, advisors, the Department of Agriculture, the University of Idaho Extension and others. She says, “Now they’re actually a unit; collectively they have a voice.”
It was this type of collaborative spirit that made Emmett, Idaho the pilot for the Idaho Hunger-Free Community Initiative. Over the past year, a core group of community members from diverse sectors in Gem County conducted an in-depth self-assessment. They brought all kinds of people together to figure out what’s going on in their community.
The goal was to create long-term solutions, rather than quick fixes. “It’s food security in a different way,” Kathy says. One example of Emmett’s path to nutritional self-sufficiency is the City Council’s amendment of an ordinance so that residents are now allowed to raise chickens in their back yards.
The City of Emmett and Gem County have agreed to mentor the next rural pilot community so that community can create its own best practices for ending food insecurity. A Web-based, interactive Hunger Free Communities toolkit is being tested for use by future communities interested in improving their food systems.
Among other features, the toolkit implements steps for communities to identify their core groups, create a community vision, utilize a scorecard to track data, create reports, and facilitate community meetings. Although the toolkit uses Emmett’s interest in a community food hub as an example, Kathy says another community’s solution to food insecurity could be vastly different. “It might be a community garden, it might be chickens in your back yard, or it might be food stamp outreach in your community.”
Perhaps the most exciting project the Task Force has undertaken is their Food Stamp Program train-the-trainer curriculum—an effort that has been called for since the first Idaho Hunger Summit in 2006 . Says Kathy, “Idaho is one of the few states in the nation that doesn’t have a food stamp outreach plan.” There are many Idahoans, such as seniors, who are eligible but do not utilize this crucial resource.
The interactive online train-the-trainer program, funded by AARP-Idaho and created in 2011 by Emerson National Hunger Fellow Aleta Sprague, is being piloted by CAPAI, AARP-Idaho, the Idaho Interfaith Roundtable against Hunger, Community Council of Idaho and other trusted community partners so that by the time it is released, the information is clear, timely and accurate.
Sarah, who worked on the program’s technical features, says, “The idea behind [the curriculum] is to dispel myths about food stamps.” In the spring of 2012, the Task Force conducted focus groups with food stamp participants across the state to figure out the barriers that keep eligible Idahoans from participating.
“When they built the curriculum, they really built it with that in mind, but they also built it with the idea that it’s not going to be just one sector of people looking at this. It’s going to be a wide variety of people. So you’re not going to have someone necessarily wanting to be on food stamps looking at this, but you’re going to have service providers, community groups, advocates, faith groups—all looking at this to understand in more depth what’s happening,” Sarah says.
The curriculum uses Adobe Captivate software and consists of six modules: an overview of Idaho’s Food Stamp Program, benefits eligibility, application instructions, utilizing benefits, Program participants’ rights and responsibilities, and nutrition education.
One of the five workshop tracks at the October 2012 Summit on Hunger and Food Security will present the curriculum toolkit and provide guidance to attendees on becoming a trainer when they return to their communities.