The Food Security Coalition of Northern Nevada, an alliance of organizations working to combat food insecurity and support local agricultural producers, joined together during 2020 in response to the impacts of COVID-19. Through the initiative and leadership of Soulful Seeds, the group coalesced to support regional farms and address the rising food insecurity associated with the broader economic downturn resulting from the pandemic.
During 2020, the Coalition distributed 2 million pounds of food to families in need and serves as a forum for regional organizations to maximize efforts to purchase food from small and medium-sized regional farms and distribute it as quickly as possible to local food insecure populations.
The Coalition works together by:
· Collaborating and sharing resources including food storage space, distribution mechanisms, and knowledge of funding opportunities
· Helping each other fill in the gaps within our own organizations by borrowing know-how and resources from one another.
· Preventing organizations from inadvertently building redundant services
· Distributing food through pantries that have the least barriers to getting food out to everyone in need.
Partner organizations in the Food Security Coalition range from farms and food hubs to food pantries including UNR Desert Farming Initiative, Soulful Seeds, Fallon Food Hub, Catholic Charities, UNR Pack Provisions, Community Health Alliance, Family & Flint Street Farm, Reno Food Systems, Healthy Communities Coalition, and the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.
“The coalition was formed to bring together community members involved in growing, teaching, and distributing healthy organically grown food to the vulnerable in our community. We wanted to draw on the experience and connections these individuals have to facilitate the distribution of food products from producers negatively affected by the Covid pandemic. This included farmers, ranchers, and dairy producers,” said Earstin Whitten, founder of Soulful Seeds.
New relationships forged between organizations in the Food Security Coalition led to impactful projects combating food insecurity in Northern Nevada and increasing access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and animal proteins.
An example of the projects initiated by the Food Security Coalition in 2020 is the Farmers Market Gleaning Program. This program rescues fresh, nutrient-dense produce from farmers markets (products that did not sell during the market that would otherwise end up in the landfill). Reno Food Systems purchases leftover produce at wholesale prices from farmers at the end of each weekly farmers market. That produce is then re-distributed to 12 community partners who will get it to families in need.
The pantries and community kitchens that are targeted in this program are those that have fewer resources and access to fresh produce. This initiative both helps small farmers by paying them for products that are typically a financial loss and helps support grassroots organizations working to get healthy foods to those who need them the most.
"When launching our Farmers Market Gleaning Program, being a Coalition member was instrumental to the success of getting fresh and healthy foods to families experiencing food insecurity,” said Lyndsey Langsdale, with Reno Food Systems. “It takes time and perseverance to build relationships with the many pantries and food assistance programs in our community, so ensuring that our healthy perishable foods get to people who really need it in a timely and food safe way isn't simple.”
According to Langsdale, the organizations that represent the Coalition have spent years supporting farmers and families in our community and that support makes navigating all aspects of a food system much more effective. By working together, the coalition and keep a finger on the pulse of the local food system; everything from knowing what farmers are growing, to who has spare refrigeration space, extra storage space, who has a vehicle that can transport product to a pantry in a hurry, what pantries can accept and distribute 100 pounds of organic pork, and what farms have compost or animal programs and can accept food scraps. “The Coalition allows us to all do our jobs better and work to build a more secure food system for everyone," she said.
In 2020, members of the Food Security Coalition secured over $750,000 in grant funding for projects that supported the local agricultural community and combatted food insecurity throughout Northern Nevada. These projects resulted in the distribution of 2 million pounds of food to families in need.
Additionally, partner organizations were able to build capacity and infrastructure for the regional food system through the acquisition of over $100,000 in grant funding for refrigerated storage and distribution vehicles.
Kelli Kelly, executive director of the Fallon Food Hub said, “It is really amazing what we were able to accomplish as a coalition in the latter half of 2020. Working to combat food insecurity in our community while supporting our local farmers and agricultural producers is meaningful and impactful work--and as long as members of our community are hungry, this work will continue. I look forward to seeing what the coalition can accomplish in 2021.”