How one organization works to connect people and food
by M. Sophie Franchi
What’s your relationship to food? Do you want to know where your dinner ingredients came from? Maybe you’d like to become a food entrepreneur but you don’t have a commercial kitchen, or maybe you own a church that has an underutilized kitchen. Perhaps you want to start a community garden, but you don’t know how. Or maybe you’re not sure how you can afford healthy food.
Summit Food Coalition (SFC) is working to help solve all these problems and more. They work to ensure all residents in Summit County have access to healthy food, and to spur economic opportunities for farmers and food entrepreneurs. They do this through advocacy, education and policy.
SFC Director Beth Knorr gained an appreciation for the challenges farmers face to provide us with food when she was a farmer.
“I think it’s something we don’t often think about in our daily lives,” Beth says. “We just go to the grocery store and pick up some food, and we don’t really think about the hands that have touched it along the way. I think that’s why there are so many inequities within the food system, whether it is the farmers not being able to make a living or slave conditions in the food system for the people who are harvesting our tomatoes and our parsley and our cilantro.”
Now Beth works with SFC to bring together organizations and individuals who are working on the ground and at the policy level in the local food sphere, so that they can tackle the systemic issues that lead to chronic problems in the food industry.
“There are all these organizations who are already doing that work, and we see our role as lifting them up and sharing with the broader community the work that they are doing, showcasing where people can go to learn those skills,” says Beth. “If you want to start a community garden, we can get you in touch with the right people. If you want to know more about farmer’s markets in the community, we can get you to the right people.”
Summitfoodcoalition.org provides some of that information, and SFC is in the process of building a local food guide. They already have listings of all the farmers markets on the website, and they hope to add farm stands, CSAs and local food entrepreneurs soon.
In the meantime, SFC has a couple important events coming up this fall.
Savor the Summit is a fundraiser for SFC, or as Beth calls it, a “friend-raiser.” Guests will have the opportunity to get to know SFC and learn what food system work is all about. The event will take place Tuesday, September 26 at HiHO Brewing Co. in Cuyahoga Falls, and will begin with the presentation of SFC’s inaugural Local Food Hero award to Lisa Nunn, Director of Let’s Grow Akron. Then guests can enjoy local beer, food and live music courtesy of The Gage Brothers and gourmet popsicles by PopSmith for dessert. Tickets are $45 presale, $50 at the door.
The Local Food Hero award was established to honor someone doing great work in the local food community.
“We were looking for someone who has been doing this work for a while, who maybe just quietly goes about their work and doesn’t expect recognition, someone who is a model of collaboration, who is excited about bringing more people into the fold. Lisa embodied that fully,” says Beth.
Lisa Nunn has worked diligently with Let’s Grow Akron to operate the Summit Lake Farmer’s Market after a number of organizations helped to get it started in 2013.
“Let’s Grow Akron really stepped up to the plate and has been carrying that market forward for the past two years,” says Beth.
Let’s Grow Akron also teaches youth how to grow food and sell it at markets. They’ve also worked with Summit ReWorks to set up compost stations at various community gardens.
“Under Lisa’s leadership, they are really doing a great job of finding their niche within the food system and tackling big issues,” says Beth. “And she does it with grace, and joy, and you know that’s just something that I think all of us can kind of aspire to.”
This year Beth Knorr and Katie Frye, SFC board president chose Lisa, but in the future, they will accept nominations.
“I know that there are people out there doing really incredible work. And so I think that by establishing this kind of award, we’ll get to hear more of those stories about the wonderful things that people are doing,” Beth says. “I see this as a vehicle, not only to honor somebody’s work, but to really be able to hear and share the stories of what’s positive in the community, what work is being done to tackle some of these issues.”
Later in the fall, SFC will host Summit County Eats, a free all-day event set to coincide with National Food Day on Saturday, October 21.
Early birds can join Summit County Eats’ keynote speaker and Wholesome Wave Founder/CEO Michel Nischan for a tour of the Howe Meadow farmer’s market from 8 – 10 am. Then the party moves to The Well Akron Community Development Corporation from 10 am – 4 pm, where attendees can experience workshops on how to extend the growing season for our local climate, cooking demos, Dave Lieberth’s presentation on the history of food in Summit County and sharing circles where people will talk about their relationship to food.
The literal takeaway from this event will be a food passport, which will include places people can go and things people can do to get engaged with the food system. For instance, cooking your grandma’s favorite recipe, creating a new food tradition with your family, or writing your legislator about how you feel about school food. Once participants complete the passport, they’ll be entered into a raffle.
“A lot of the stuff are things that people are probably already doing, but probably not making that connection that it’s a contribution, that they are contributing to the local food economy by doing these things,” says Beth.
Visit summitfoodcoaltion.org for more information.
[Featured photo of cherries courtesy of Summit Food Coalition.]