Foodbanking and Farming with Ohio's Youth

September 15, 2020
In Dayton, Ohio, The Foodbank, Inc. has distributed more than 4 million pounds of food since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. With support from an NCR-SARE Youth Educator grant, they also help area youth learn more about sustainable growing, local food systems, and food insecurity. Photo courtesy of Lee Lauren (Alder) Truesdale.

The Foodbank, Inc. in Dayton, Ohio has been a hub of activity since the coronavirus outbreak. With massive COVID-19 drive-thru distributions and assistance from the National Guard, this community food supplier has shared more than 20 million pounds with more than 900,000 people in Montgomery, Greene, and Preble counties, Ohio.

“Our community here in Dayton has had a difficult two years, starting first with a water crisis in February of 2019, 15 tornadoes in May of 2019, a mass shooting in August of 2019, and now COVID,” Lee Lauren (Alder) Truesdale, Chief Development Officer at The Foodbank. “Our team’s response to many of these emergencies, providing critical emergency food assistance, is only possible because our team knows how to be flexible, we know how to work together amid crisis, and we have the best supporters.”

Childhood hunger is a critical assistance area of concern for The Foodbank; a 2019 analysis showed their service area had a child food insecurity rate of 20.7%. The Foodbank staff wanted to make an effort to engage more young people with their civic-minded, food-based mission. They began repurposing a parking lot to grow produce right in their own backyard.

A New Generation of Urban Growers

With support from an NCR-SARE Youth Educator grant in 2016, The Foodbank worked with area farmers, schools, community centers, and Extension personnel to develop ten lesson plans about sustainable farming. The plans focused on land stewardship, sustainable growing practices, and the impact that urban food production could make on solving hunger in the Miami Valley.

“Our building and growing space sit in a very urban community, and we find that many students don’t get the chance for hands-on ‘field trips’ due to limited school funding,” said Truesdale. “We try to create a fun and accessible space for young children to learn and older youth to gain job and life skills.”

Throughout the summers of 2017 and 2018, 385 youth ranging in age from 3-16 years old planted, cared for, harvested, and helped distribute food with support from the SARE grant. They learned about planting, composting, pollinators, beneficial insects, harvesting, and food preparation. Youth also learned about local food insecurity figures and the problem of hunger in the Miami Valley. 

“Fresh produce can be an item that is out of reach for families living with a limited food budget,” said Truesdale. “If we can help supplement what families are buying with their small SNAP stipends, or limited budgets, by providing fresh produce, dairy products, and lean proteins, then we can help create a healthier community, and families can use the funds they have to pay for other necessary expenses.”

The Foodbank’s SARE-supported youth education classes were the first ‘formal’ youth classes offered at The Foodbank. While the COVID-19 outbreak prevented classes for summer 2020, volunteers returned to work for summer 2021. During reduced operations 2020, staff workers were able to work on educational amenities. They added an in-vessel composting system and will add a greenhouse, and have incorporated both into their youth education programs. During the 2020 growing season, they harvested nearly 7,000 pounds of produce for distribution.

“The Foodbank truly benefited from SARE funding and enjoyed working with our community to both educate youth about food insecurity and how to sustain their own lives by growing healthy food,” said Truesdale.

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Topics: Sustainable Communities
Related Locations: North Central, Ohio