Community members discuss Vinton County food situation
By Sarah Hawley, Vinton County Courier
As residents of Vinton County approach three years without a grocery store, residents and local officials continue to focus on solutions. As the county awaits a new store, people are focusing on what resources are available and what can be done to utilize them.As residents of Vinton County approach three years without a grocery store, residents and local officials continue to focus on solutions. As the county awaits a new store, people are focusing on what resources are available and what can be done to utilize them.
On March 1, the Vinton County OSU Extension hosted a Food, Education, Agriculture, Solutions, Together (FEAST) Community Conversation to discuss food matters in Vinton County.
Students from the Vinton County Middle School Beta Club presented a photo project regarding food in Vinton County. Presenting were Amanda Boring, McKenizie Radabaugh, Kelsey Beyer, Gretchen McIntire, Rylee Fee and Olivia Wells.
They noted that some beverages and foods can still be found at gas stations, convenience stores and at fast-food spots like McDonald’s. Still, they said, fresh produce is not widely available other than summer months when the Farmer’s Market opens.
The price of healthier options were also discussed as part of the presentation, with the students stating that a honey bun, for example, is 50 cents, with a can of vegetables costing 99 cents. They also noted pizza is a diet staple of Vinton County residents, with at least a dozen pizza places located in the county.
One way the students are working to make fresh food items more available in the county is through the garden project at the school. Food produced from the garden is donated to the volunteers who harvest it and to the CARE Outreach program.
The students concluded that although there may not be a grocery store in the county, there are resources available through hunting, farming and other options. They said that participating in the project changed the negative views they may have had, and helped them to focus on what is available.
Those in attendance were asked to think of all the food related businesses or locations in the county, plotting them on a map. Locations such as farms, restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores were marked on the map, with many of the locations centralized along the main highways or in the villages.
Breaking into groups, discussions took place about the vision for the county’s food system, how to connect individuals, businesses and resources, what can encourage people to take part in the efforts and what barriers stand in the way.
While people can be resourceful in growing their own foods, or shopping at a farmer’s market, education may be needed regarding how to prepare the foods.
Some suggested current business could be connected into purchasing groups in order to lower the cost for items. One example discussed was that the local stores must pay more than $4 per gallon for milk, resulting in it being sold for a much higher price than it would be at Wal-Mart or other businesses that can purchase in a larger quantity.
Communication is also a key factor in helping the food situation. Facebook groups such as one for the extension office can help to connect individuals with opportunities and programs. There is also a VCMS service projects page which lists items such as the harvesting dates for the school garden and other programs offered.
One suggestion brought up by Duane Boring of Bufflo Dip was to host a monthly farmer’s market/flea market type event at the Vinton County Fairgrounds in order to bring in more vendors and shoppers. He also suggested thinking outside the box with a co-op or community market.
Dave Boothe of CARE Outreach spoke of the need for greater public awareness and advocacy for the food pantry, as well as other options currently in place.
Some of the barriers discussed were the negative attitudes and disappointment that has come with not having a store, lack of drive and commitment and the lack of money for start-up, expansion or purchasing.
Dan Remley with the OSU Extension spoke of a food council which could be formed to help shape the path forward for the county and assist in applying for grant funding.
Remley stated that resources are available through a Voices for Food grant, but steps must be taken first to establish a food council and to have a “food champion” to lead the effort toward the grants.
Other encouragement for the food effort discussed included the youth movement, with children being involved as early as Head Start in making healthy food choices. There are also giveaways available through the Extension Office for residents to start their own garden. Extension can provide seeds and items needed to grow fresh produce.