By Mike Szostak
Who in our community has the means and access to grow, sell, and eat healthy food? Is it a reasonable expectation that our food be fresh, nutritious, affordable, and grown locally, with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals?
On Sunday, March 20 our Shareholder Forum hosted a distinguished panel of local experts who addressed these questions from the different perspectives of: farmers (Howard Prussack, High Meadow Farm, and Brian McNeice, Bonvue Farm), children (Vicky Senni, Let's Grow Kids), seniors (Chris McAvoy, Brattleboro Senior Meals), low-income (Rhianna Kendrick, Drop-In Center, Groundworks Collaborative), and our own Co-op (Sabine Rhyne). Following their informative presentations, a lively audience dialogue ensued.
Although we do not have enough space here to summarize all the perspectives presented, some key highlights are:
- Many segments of our community are struggling with insufficient wages and income to meet their financial needs. By many measures, the low-income segment of our population is rapidly growing. For example, over 40% of our kids receive meal assistance at school.
- Food quality and nutritional needs are often compromised by individuals and families in order to pay for rent, transportation, medication, health care, and other basic needs. Dental care is alarmingly sacrificed by many.
- It is not unusual for a small Vermont farmer to be earning the equivalent of about $4 per hour. Paying farm workers a living wage, with even minimum benefits, is hard to achieve while keeping food affordable.
- There is strong interest in our area regarding the “Fight for 15” movement (Average hourly wage in our Co-op is just over $14.)
- Government subsidies do not cover the cost of meal assistance programs. The Drop In Center, Senior Meals, Meals on Wheels, and other programs depend on donations to survive.
- Spending $1 at a local farm or at our Co-op keeps most of that dollar in our community. Although this may require a change in eating habits, this “buy-local” commitment has a positive and significant economic and environmental impact on our community.
Despite these challenges, we are fortunate to live a community that has a strong advocacy and participatory spirit. Some things you can do toward helping achieve food justice for all:
- If you did not attend this community dialogue, watch it on BCTV to gain a better understanding of food justice in our community.
- Participate in the Hunger Council of Windham County (http://hungerfreevt.com)
- Become familiar with and spread the word about our Co-op’s efforts to address food justice including the Pennywise Pantry, Food for All, and Co-op Basics programs.
- Participate in our Shareholder Forum meetings on the 3rd Sunday of every month from 5 to 7 PM in Community Room to add your voice as a shareholder in our Co-op.
- Consider donating your time and money to organizations such as Senior Meals, Meal-on-Wheels, the Drop-In Center, and others who provide the basic necessities of life. (Government subsidies cover less than half of their expenses.)
- Participate in Brattleboro Time Trade ( http://brattleborotimetrade.org )
- Buy from your local farmers and our Co-op. Keep your money in our community, to benefit our community.