Hope for the Hungry

This past Saturday, around 100 Iowans – mostly from Polk county – met to discuss the hunger and food issues affecting us locally at this year’s Hope for the Hungry conference. Speakers and workshops covered issues, like access to healthy options, community gardening, food policy, nutritious food preparation and preservation, urban chickens, and so much more. There was so much going on, between the speakers, workshops, conversations, and exhibits, so I will try to cover some of the highlights. I know some readers won’t make it past here due to the sheer amount of information I am going to recount from the weekend, so to get involved with local issues check out the Urban Ambassadors who put on this event.

Elizabeth Ballstadt, the DMARC food pantries director, was the first speaker of the day. She discussed the staggering amount of families in low-income situations that can’t afford food, the switch DMARC has made to healthy food in their emergency food pantries, and she outlined all of the food options available in Polk county – both affordable and not. They will be launching a new website in March, called move the food, which will cover all of the issues she discussed.

Next we heard from Jason Grimm, of Iowa Valley RC&D, who expanded on the idea of providing healthy options to the community. As a landscape architect, he comes to the problem with the idea of planning with cities to integrate green spaces into their city planning. The community can partake in backyard and community gardens, but he also expanded into the idea of urban farming and an interesting concept of food boulevards. There was a lot of proven theory taken from big cities around the country and world, and Jason is working to bring those ideas to Iowa.

Most of the day was split into workshops that covered so much. I wish I could have gone to most of them but time only allotted for two. The choices were Community Gardens, Urban Farms, School Gardens, Faith Gardens, Local Food Policy, Food Rescue, Urban Chickens, Farm to School, Nutritious Food Preparation, and Food Preservation – literally something for everyone interested in local food issues. I went to local food policy and nutritious food preparation.

While food policy is not everyone’s cup of tea, it is really interesting to me. To sum up the workshop, everyone has an effect on policy whether it is on the neighborhood level or all the way at the highest point of international cooperation. At the county level, Polk is working on a project that deals with all of the health and food issues that concern us locally: Healthy Polk 2020.

The nutritious food preparation workshop had good info for everyone. Basically, be aware of what you eat, the more vegetables the better, and cut down your proportions. If you look at your plate, half should be veggies, a quarter should be healthy protein, and the last should be healthy carbohydrates – of course the not everyone can be like the late Jack Lallane, but any movement towards healthy decisions is better than the alternative. When it comes to preparing these healthy meals, all you need to prepare is pan, a knife, and a cutting board.

All of this info is just the tip of the iceberg. For specifics, feel free to comment on the page, check out Urban Ambassadors, or just start Googling around the internet. And of course, there is always next year at Hope for the Hungry 2012.