Results from The Hunger Coalition’s yearlong Blaine County Community Food Assessment study indicate that 21 percent of households in the county use public or charitable assistance to help meet their nutritional needs.
Those in need seek help from numerous sources, including food stamps, School District lunch programs, church dinners and the Hunger Coalition’s mobile food bank.
The Hunger Coalition mailed 8,000 surveys to household food shoppers over 18 years of age and received 1,100 back. The nonprofit organization also held five focus groups for identified “food insecure individuals”—those with children, those without children, seniors, Hispanics and those living in Carey.
Food-insecure people were defined as having “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”
The study focused on four components: food production, food consumption, food waste and recovery and food security.
The study reports that 193 Blaine County farmers produced $26.4 million worth of agricultural products last year, the bulk of which were commodity crops such as alfalfa, malting barley and seed potatoes.
Despite citing numerous challenges to creating a local food system in Blaine County (climate, lack of processing facilities and labor shortages), the study recommends creating land-access agreements and internship programs to foster more local food production for local consumption.
“Farmers and ranchers are interested in growing food that can be sold in Blaine County markets,” the study states.
According to the study, “affordable, tasty” and “healthful” foods ranked highest in preference among survey respondents, with “organic” ranking lowest.
The study showed that individuals in middle-income brackets shop outside the valley (in Twin Falls or Boise) more frequently than those in the highest and lowest-income brackets. The Hunger Coalition surmised that the reason for this could be that those at the higher income levels shop locally at relatively expensive stores in the Wood River Valley for convenience, whereas those at the lowest income levels do so because they lack the resources to travel to Twin Falls.
The study reports that in 2013, Blaine County was the fifth most expensive county in the U.S. for food shopping. It states that the least costly grocery food in Blaine County is in Bellevue and Hailey. It notes that the grocery store in Carey lacked 15 items of the 80-item basket of standard items inventoried for each store, rendering the town a “food desert” for fresh produce and meats.
The study indicates that commercial food recovery and composting services exist in Blaine County, including a pilot program between Clear Creek Disposal and Winn’s Composting to gather food waste from area restaurants and Blaine County schools for composting.
“Albertsons in Hailey is pursuing ‘zero-waste,’ and has implemented significant diversion of food through donations to the local senior center, The Hunger Coalition, and composting,” the study reports.
The Hunger Coalition buys food and receives donations from local grocery stores and Idaho’s Bounty, and receives food donations throughout the year from community members.
The Coalition also buys at discount from the Idaho Foodbank and other national and regional commercial food suppliers. The study states that food insecurity can occur when unusual financial burdens arise or during a sudden loss of income, a period of “situational poverty” that occurs for 40 percent of Hunger Coalition clients.
Yet people in need prefer not to get handouts. Twenty-three percent of food-insecure households responding to the survey said they would try to receive assistance if they could volunteer or work in trade for food, whereas 46 percent said they would never seek food assistance.
“Stigma is a pervasive problem in addressing food security,” the report states.
To obtain more information or to read the full report, go the Hunger Coalition’s website at www.thehungercoalition.org.