By Evan Johnson
RUTLAND—On Monday afternoon, March 20, the Hunger Council of Rutland County convened in a conference room at Rutland Regional Medical Center to explore ways to connect local food production with food security.
The most recent data from Hunger Free Vermont show that one in four children in Rutland County are food insecure, and 52 percent of grade school and high school students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. There are 10,772 county residents participating in 3SquaresVT (formerly known as food stamps).
According to most recent Census data, there are 640 farms across Rutland County. Across Vermont, some 14.3 million pounds of produce is lost every year—either unpicked in the field, composted or fed to animals. It’s an area where the council sees an opportunity.
“We are so blessed to live on such not only abundant land but also where there’s people working hard every day to make our food,” said Pastor John Longworth, who chairs the council.
The meeting on March 20 saw representatives from organizations that grow, collect or distribute food in Rutland County.
Heidi Lynch with the Vermont Farmers Food Center described the “Health Care Share” program that links at-risk families with fresh, local produce. Families or individuals can be “prescribed” to the program by their doctor, and receive a 12-week farm share. The program is looking to serve 130 shares during the growing season this year. This spring, Rutland and Chittenden counties are piloting a new coupon booklet available to families receiving SNAP benefits.
At the Smokey House Center in Danby, Vt., Ginny Cook said volunteers successfully grew and donated some 8,000 pounds of produce last year. They also established a free CSA at their local elementary school, which served 36 families.
St. Joseph’s College students said volunteers are going to be working on their on-campus garden, but are looking to connect with organizations to accept the produce they grow.
Phil Gurley of the Rutland Area Farm & Food Link said the organization’s “Glean Team” rescued some 29,854 pounds of unharvested food last year.
In the face of potential cuts in federal funding, Hunger Council organizer Jenna Banning said they would be closely monitoring developments at the state and national level.
“We wouldn’t be more surprised if we see more threatening things coming down the line,” she said.