Do you give a man a fish or teach him how to fish for himself?
For centuries, we have been pondering this question, but the Food Bank of North Alabama (FBNA) in Huntsville, Alabama, thinks it has found the answer. Instead of just providing food for its patrons, it’s creating a whole network to promote hunger awareness and sustainable, local food.
FBNA started with one volunteer at a desk in the local senior center in 1984, and has since grown into an organization that serves 100,000 people in an 8,000 square mile service area. Their mission: provide food and hunger relief to needy residents but also provide the tools to help the community create a sustainable local food system. (The Food Bank isn’t alone in this fight as it has partnerships with 200 organizations.)
So how does it go about creating a local food system? The food bank offers a wide variety of services that raise awareness and provide solutions. These services include education and presentations on regional hunger issues, backpack programs for school children on the weekends and loan programs for local, small growers and helping to form farming collaborations.
To help with the collaborations, the food bank established the “Farm Food Team,” which connects local farmers with schools, hospitals, grocery stores and restaurants to form partnerships that otherwise might not be possible. As a result, already five new farmer’s markets have sprouted in the area.
It wasn’t enough, though, to work with only people in the food business. The food supply should be the concern of the entire area, so the FBNA started the North Alabama Food Policy Council. Comprised of all volunteers, the Council aims to engage all residents and stakeholders. It has three goals in mind: (1) to educate the residents about the food system, (2) facilitate collaboration and (3) recommend regional policy changes.
The newest addition is the “food dialogues,” which, thanks to the Council, took place in 2012 and 2013. These talks involved residents and experts who came together to discuss how to increase sustainability and the local food supply. From these discussions, the Council will make their policy recommendations.
According to Kathryn Strickland, the Executive Director of the Food Bank of North Alabama, the purpose of the organization is to unite and connect.
“The connection between us and our health, between our food dollars and our local economy; and the connections we have with each other and how our friends and neighbors can grow the food for us,” Strictland told Sustainable Cities. “A local food system is all about connections and it’s so important to strengthen those in our community.”