Louisiana Food Fellows program creates equitable food systems for Cenla community

Photo courtesy of Louisiana Central
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Central(Louisiana Central)
Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 1:55 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - The Louisiana Food Fellows program is turning thinkers into doers.

Curated by Louisiana Central, the workshop series will provide community activists with the necessary resources to become local food leaders.

Accepting applications through September 30, 2021, the leadership training program centers around CENLA’s food systems but is available to all within the state.

All eight sessions will be held online to increase program accessibility in the face of COVID-19 and Louisiana’s hurricane season. The program comes at no cost to attendees.

Led by a strategically selected panel of national experts, topics will include a deep dive into the definition of “food systems,” followed by food system equity and justice, grassroots community building, food policy and councils, food system economics, and how to tell your own story in building your food system’s resilience.

President and CEO of Louisiana Central, Jim Clinton, explained what the Food Fellows program had to offer in its seventh year.

“In some ways, it’s enhancing the problem-solving capabilities. In many ways, it’s building a new generation of leaders in the food arena. Circling back to us, it connects to the economic opportunities that arise from the food system,” said Clinton.

With an influx of applications and only so many slots available for this year’s program, Bahia Nightengale, the Louisiana Central’s Executive Director for Farm and Food, says it shows a great need, but it also shows increased interest around food system issues.

“With hurricanes, flooding, and the pandemic, people have woken up to the reality of how fragile the industrial food system is,” said Nightengale. “People are looking for tools and resources to build a sustainable food system for their community.”

Fighting Hunger in Louisiana

The time is now for community members from all walks of life to get involved in eradicating food insecurity and food insufficiency.

According to Feeding Louisiana, many families are one job loss or medical crisis away from slipping into food insecurity, defined by the USDA as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

As reported by the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy, over 280,000 Louisiana jobs were lost at the onset of the pandemic. Although approximately half of these jobs have been recovered, the damage to food accessibility remains.

According to a recent report by the Center for Planning Excellence in Baton Rouge, LA, an additional 113,000 Louisiana households have become food insecure since the beginning of the pandemic, with 253,000 people (or 15% of the population) becoming food insufficient, or “not getting enough to eat at some point in the last week.”

With the federally mandated Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) extension due to expire at the end of this month, local organizations like the Food Bank of Central Louisiana are mobilizing to meet the influx of needs as detailed in their Summer 2021 newsletter.

“We all assume that someone else is taking care of the food system because it’s so important,” said Nightengale. “We hope this program will empower a core group of people to take action in their community’s food system and support federal farm bills because they truly affect everybody.”

According to Nightengale, the points of discussion in the workshop series are intentionally diverse, highlighting the interconnected nature of public infrastructure, labor laws, and economic drivers.

“Food systems are way more complex than addressing needs around food insecurity,” she said. “It also means transportation and fair wages for all people involved in the food system and how we can create entrepreneurial opportunities for growing, processing, and selling locally produced food.”

Fill out the application HERE by September 30 to participate in the sixth cohort of the Louisiana Food Fellows Program.

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