Increased funding and community partnerships are helping Community Hunger Solutions (CHS) continue to grow, bringing healthy locally-grown produce from area farms providing hunger relief to regional communities.
The vital role the Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA) plays in this project provides the program with in-kind financial administration, grant writing assistance, and important organizational mentoring.
VEDA’s Food Enterprise Center in Viroqua provides the infrastructure needed to prepare and disseminate the food efficiently and effectively to their distribution partners. This fits well with VEDA’s focus to improve the quality of life in our region and increase the business capacity of area farmers.
“The 2015 growing season ended with another significant increase in the amount of produce CHS was able to procure and distribute,” according to Daniel Chotzen, Operations Coordinator of the local project. Through an increase of farm partnerships, CHS was able to distribute 245,285 lbs. of vegetables in 2015. This was an increase from the previous year of 80,062 lbs. procured and 66,718 additional meals provided. Contributing to that total was a weekly effort from a harvesting (gleaning) team, made up of community volunteers and paid workers with varying abilities, who captured produce from area farm fields. A partnership established in 2014 with Organic Valley also continued to contribute a significant amount of excess produce from their Produce Pool located in Cashton.
Last year, 59,390 lbs. of vegetables were delivered to food pantries within Vernon, Crawford, Monroe and Juneau counties, an increase of 25,047 lbs. distributed in 2014. Through CHS’s continued partnerships, an additional 44,264 lbs. were provided to La Crosse County food pantries through Hunger Task Force food bank. A second food bank, Second Harvest in Madison, received 141,631 lbs. of fresh produce, an increase of 61,239 lbs. over 2014. In all, some 29 Wisconsin food pantries and meal sites benefit from this effort, which also includes resource materials for food pantry personnel and clientele about healthy eating. Key project staff person Peg LaMartina traveled throughout the nearby four-county region, disseminating this important information, and will return this season as CHS’s nutrition educator.
“CHS has established itself as a multifaceted partner across the community which has been the foundation for its success,” said CHS Farm-Food Coordinator Gary Thompson. “At the core of this project are the many area producers who toil daily to bring healthy food to our plates.” Through the establishment and implementation of a vision for a “seconds” produce market, CHS has not only been able to provide healthy fresh food to those in need of hunger relief but contributes to the sustainability of our local farm community.
The key component allowing CHS to carry out the daily tasks of the operation are those who provide direct funding, such as the Walmart Foundation which has contributed $50,000 annually the last two years. Organic Valley, the Coulee Food System Coalition, the Franke Foundation and United Way have been additional vital funding partners. Other local support has also been provided by many individuals, businesses and organizations like the Viroqua Food Co-op, Kickapoo Coffee, Empty Bowls, Viroqua Foundation and Bethel Butikk. Visit the CHS website listed below to view all their project partners.
As CHS prepares for this year’s work, more grant writing and continued partner involvement are needed. “CHS has already received a three-year commitment of $10,000 annually from Organic Valley, which is getting 2016 off to a good start,” says Thompson, but other funding sources are still needed. Even with contributions toward the produce provided by the food banks, not all costs of the project are covered. Other funding sources are being sought to help CHS bring quality fresh produce to area food pantries.
If you would like to help CHS in this effort, you may send a tax-deductible contribution to VEDA/CHS, 1201 North Main St, Suite 6, Viroqua, WI 54665.
For more information, contact Daniel Chotzen at (608) 606-1910, Gary Thompson at (608) 632-2163, or go to the CHS website, community-hunger-solutions.org.
Membership drive underway
A reminder that we are currently seeking new and continuing members of VEDA to help in our important work as well.
Our mission is to create economic wealth and prosperity while preserving our rural Vernon County lifestyle. VEDA does this by supporting entrepreneurship and the development of new businesses; fostering the retention and expansion of existing businesses; recruiting new businesses to the county; providing educational forums and technical assistance to municipalities, local development organizations, and businesses; serving as a central source of assistance, information, and resources to support economic development; and being a central contact for tourism.
Among its accomplishments, VEDA has developed the former NCR building into the Food Enterprise Center, a state-of-the-art food hub with 14 tenant entrepreneurial businesses, value-added commercial kitchens, loading docks, and ample parking.
More information is available on our website veda-wi.org, or contact Sue Noble, Executive Director of VEDA, at 608-638-8332 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We encourage you to join us.