Before the Farmers Feeding Utah Distribution Event had even begun, students were already lining up on the east end of the Quad to receive free ground beef and corn produced by local farmers.
The event was just one of many held by Farmers Feeding Utah since the organization’s founding in April 2020 by the Utah Farm Bureau and Utah State University Extension. The organization aims to both reduce hunger and stimulate the local economy by purchasing food from Utah producers and donating it to people experiencing food insecurity.
Rachel Mosher, a student volunteer, was on hand to give out bags of food. She believes the event was a success.
“I think they really enjoyed it,” said Mosher of her fellow students. “Some of them were kind of hesitant at first because so many things have strings attached to them nowadays, but this was just about trying to give back to the community. It was fun watching their faces as they realized they didn't have to give anything to receive.”
Heidi LeBlanc, a USU Extension professor and director of the USU Hunger Solutions Institute and Create Better Health Utah program, explained that Farmers Feeding Utah identifies vulnerable communities and then prepares a response suited to their unique needs. In the past, that has included everything from potatoes and cherries for Salt Lake Valley elementary school students to live sheep for the Navajo Nation during the pandemic.
“We try to focus on where there is food insecurity and then figure out how we can help that community with what's culturally relevant and what’s needed for families that have been hit with difficulties,” LeBlanc said.
While college students may not seem likely to struggle with food insecurity, the numbers suggest otherwise.
“There’s around 30 percent food insecurity right here at USU,” said LeBlanc in reference to a 2018 study from the USU Hunger Solutions Institute. “That’s quite significant. Over time, we’ve seen hunger remain around roughly 10 percent in Utah, with that number being a little bit higher for Latinx populations.”
USU Extension Vice President and Dean of USU’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences Ken White helped out at the event and has worked with Farmers Feeding Utah before. He noted that food insecurity isn’t always obvious.
“When you go into a community, especially one like Cache Valley, you don't usually suspect that there’s much food insecurity,” White said. “And then you have an event like Farmers Feeding Utah, and you see a huge number of people that turn out because they need the food. It’s been enlightening.”
White was glad to attend the event.
“It's always fun to be able to provide something someone else needs and makes a difference, so I'm glad these students were able to participate in that,” said White. “It’s a good feeling.”
After working in the distribution line, Mosher agreed.
“Everyone here is just eager to help,” she said. “And it's a positive atmosphere when school can sometimes be stressful. It made me happy to be here.”
In addition to the help of people like Mosher, LeBlanc explained that Farmers Feeding Utah relies on small donations to keep going.
“Everything we’ve been able to do has been because of donations from individuals,” said LeBlanc. “We've had some help from businesses, and a lot from foundations, but most of what provides for these events is individuals donating $10, $20, $50. It's incredible that we're still able to do this program 15 months after it began. And people appreciate the high quality of the food.”
Students and other people interested in Farmers Feeding Utah can reach out to Heidi LeBlanc through the Hunger Solutions Institute or via email at email@example.com. Donations can be made at farmersfeedingutah.org.
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