I had the honor and opportunity to serve as a member of the event planning team and a conference dialogue leader for a conversation on food and education at the third annual Ohio Hunger Dialogues hosted by Walsh University (North Canton) last weekend.
The dialogues brought multiple stakeholders from a variety of disciplines including universities, nonprofits, health care, agriculture, food, business, and arts and culture together to learn, share and collaborate on creative best practices and solutions around the systemic issues of hunger and food insecurity in our Ohio communities.
The event featured a keynote address by Erin White, principal and founder of Community Food Lab (http://communityfoodlab.org/), a creative hybrid design firm at the heart of design, consulting and social entrepreneurship in the human-centered arena of healthy food systems in Raleigh, North Carolina. White also led a post-conference workshop on how design might engage in food system work. The workshop allowed participants to work through the design thinking process using a food system approach.
I found many “food for thought” morsels throughout the event. In fact, I thought it both meaningful and relevant to share a few of my reflections as part of this week’s column. It seemed a fitting farewell to National Hunger Awareness and Action Month in September and an opportunity to ignite people’s desire to tackle the “wicked” problems in their yard or garden and also those facing their communities.
Work in hunger and food systems requires us to be courageous.
These types of problems have historical foundations in social, economic, cultural, environmental and political issues and require us not to be afraid to fail. Instead, we must focus on the lesson and be driven by what we find.
Systemic issues such as hunger and food insecurity are “wicked” problems.
These problems do not have a unique answer; they do not have a single solution; they are not easily solved with a one-size-fits-all solution. They are often complicated and complex issues and require multiple-stage solutions over time taking into account unique viewpoints, expertise and experiences.
Successful solutions lie at the intersection of feasible, desirable and sustainable actions and best practices that meet people’s needs.
Using a human-centered design framework allows for the development of solutions to problems by engaging a human perspective in every step of the process. It empowers individuals and communities to provide and direct services for the core needs of those directly impacted by the problem.
Project in Stark
Connecting arts and culture with community brings awareness and informational literacy about hunger and food insecurity.
It can be difficult to convince everyone that hunger and food insecurity are real issues in their community.
A collaborative program identified as Project Eats features a yearlong celebration of food in Stark County. In addition to the published book, the project brought together multiple partners in Stark County to showcase the rich food history and bring awareness and appreciation to various parts of the food system.
Project highlights include an oral history project, museum and art exhibitions, movie screenings and educational programs. To learn more about upcoming events, visit https://www.projecteatstark.org/
Food system education needs to start at an early age and be reinforced throughout the lifelong learning continuum to develop a core food literacy and self-reliance.
Opportunities to reconnect young children with food system education and healthy choices is fundamental if we want to make changes to nutritional and health related outcomes. The need for food system, nutritional and agricultural education across the lifespan is critical to building self-reliance and human resilience.
Heather Neikirk is a Stark County Extension Educator in agriculture and natural resources for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences with an office in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. If you have questions about healthy food systems, farm to school, food production, small farms, women in agriculture or food gardening, contact her at 330-832-9856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.