French Broad Food Co+Op
by Daav Wheeler
We were broke, the kids were hungry, and the only place nearby to find food was a corner store. We were at Lindsey Majer’s presentation on “Nourishing Community: Food (In)Security”, doing the Food Insecurity Exercise, which gave us a glimpse of a situation that families are experiencing right now in the Asheville-Buncombe area.
Our problem was how to feed our family for a week with the $117 left over from our other monthly expenses. “Maybe if we had canned baked beans and white rice for dinner…” Then Lindsay brought us the news that the children needed $60 for new shoes. That was it. We gave up. We just weren’t going to make ends meet that month…
But in real life, when you have two kids depending on you, you can’t give up. You have to keep going. “And 15.5% of the families in Buncombe County are currently facing food insecurity,” said Lindsey to her audience. “Think of the stress that causes in our community.”
Lindsay is the social enterprise and food program manager for the training and community development organization Green Opportunities (GO). She was at the French Broad Food Co-op (FBFC), speaking not just about nutritional deprivation in our area, but also about food relief efforts and the innovative solutions her organization and others are creating to build sustainable systems for food access in low-income neighborhoods.
Poverty is usually a causal factor of food deprivation, but only one of many, because the causes are complex. The Asheville metro area currently has a low unemployment rate of 4.1%, but there are many people who are underpaid, even though they may be working a full-time job or several part-time jobs. Likewise, inadequate transportation can make it hard to get to a supermarket to buy fresh food items, or a family can find themselves living in a “food desert”, where no supermarket wants to locate. For a financially-challenged family, everything is harder.
There is help. In the Asheville-Buncombe area, there is an outpouring of concern for the hungry, mostly in providing immediate food relief. But some groups have been working at developing sustainable food production and distribution systems that give communities more control over their own nutrition.
For six years GO has been performing a valuable service to the community by offering life skills and job training for poor and at-risk individuals. Now the organization is taking the next step to include food production and business start-ups, all the while making sure that the benefits of these efforts are cycling back into the neighborhood. They offer Kitchen Ready, a food service training program that is moving into food sales, and have plans for gardens and greenhouses.
The FBFC is a supporter of GO and a collaborator in the work of the organization. The Co-op, in the person of Bobby Sullivan, our general manager, is aiding the development of an innovatively designed neighborhood food center in the Southside Community, which presently has no local grocery outlet.
Later this month, GO’s Kitchen Ready program will begin supplying the FBFC with breakfast items for the hot food bar, and the Co-op will soon stock additional Kitchen Ready products in the deli Nathaniel Crosby, Robert Morgan, and Anna Marie Smith, are FBFC employees who came to the Co-op from GO.
These interactions between FBFC and GO are proving to be beneficial to both groups. Hopefully, we will be able to maintain and expand this supportive relationship.
We send many thanks to Lindsay for speaking to the FBFC about the important topic of food insecurity in our community. Watch for more speaking events at the Co-op about efforts in our town to build sustainable food systems and how we as FBFC members can participate. Providing nutritious food is our priority. Let’s work to see that all the community is well-fed!
Would you like to help the FBFC develop a “Nourishing Communities” program? Let’s talk it over as we dig in community gardens, deliver food to the sick and stranded, gather food stories, serve in free kitchens, or other Food Service activities. Call Clare Schwartz, FBFC outreach coordinator, at (828) 255-7650 or Daav Wheeler at (828) 989-6805. Our power is our people. Let’s go to work for our community.
Doing business as Southside Cafe, Kitchen Ready serves lunch from 12:00-1:30, Monday through Friday at the Arthur R. Edington Center, 133 Livingston St. in Asheville. Meals are provided on a donation basis and are open to the public. If you need a meal, you can find a meal there; or you can go to support the work of Green Opportunities. Either way, enjoy your lunch and donate as generously as you can.