SUN VALLEY • The Wood River Valley doesn’t have anything like MM Heath Farms growing beans in Buhl or food-processing factories such as Chobani in Twin Falls.
But perhaps the valley could create an opportunity to process food and to expand the growing season through hoop gardens and other means.
These were some of the ideas cited at the start of a three-year conversation about food by dozens of representatives from the Blaine County School District, St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, Albertson’s, the Wood River Farmers Market and The Local Food Alliance.
The discussion was instigated by The Hunger Coalition, which will have two AmeriCorps VISTA members assigned to the project for the next three years. The Public Policy Research Center at Boise State University also is involved.
“Obviously, we’re interested in people who don’t get enough to eat. But we also want to figure out how those who are better off can have better access to healthy, organic, locally produced food,” said Jeanne Liston, executive director of The Hunger Coalition.
“What we’re doing encompasses everyone, poor and wealthy,” Liston said. “And the solutions could end up improving our economic well-being by providing more jobs and resources to break the cycle of poverty.”
A food security assessment team is being formed to determine how many people have trouble getting fed in a county where Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Hanks own multi-million dollar homes.
The number of people accessing the coalition’s mobile food banks has risen in the past year, even as the economy has improved.
Sage School students were baking 400 pies this week to pass out with Thanksgiving holiday baskets for the needy.
Harry Weekes, who heads the Hailey school, said his students could end food insecurity in the valley with a little help from the community.
The students raised $3,500 for the cause by organizing a farm-to-table dinner. They gleaned 1,000 pounds of fruit and collected 2,000 pounds of canned food by canvassing homes. They could do even more if they had access to a working farm with a greenhouse, Weekes said.
“We could put 10 students there two hours a day four days a week,” he said. “It would have a major impact.”
In addition to food insecurity, the study will address how residents could build a hub to collect, store, process and distribute locally produced foods between farmers, institutions and consumers. It also will explore whether a commercial community kitchen could help people produce jams and other food items for sale.
School gardens or greenhouses could educate students about where their food comes from and healthy nutrition. And the study group wants to figure out how to provide for the mentally ill and people with other barriers that keep them from getting food.
“Some people come forward to get help for their animals but not themselves,” said Sarah Seppa, a registered dietician with St. Luke’s. “How do we provide access so they don’t feel stigmatized?