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Green Scene: Local foods to ease local hunger

Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

More than half the nation's fruit, nuts, and vegetables come from California. In 2013, the state faced a crippling drought that will cause more than half a million acres of farmland to go unplanted in 2014.

A locally-based sustainable food system enhances the environmental, economic and social health of a community. Food prices are on the rise, and at the same time food stamp benefits have been severely cut and now average less than $1.40 per person per meal. Recent multi-billion dollar cuts to food assistance programs have affected more than 2 million low-income residents in Illinois. It is of extreme importance that as a community, we work towards creating a self-reliant food economy.

According to Dan Kenney, coordinator of DeKalb County Community Gardens, 13.4 percent of the DeKalb County population is food insecure. About half of those people do not qualify for government programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

To address this need, The Welcome Cafe and Community Kitchen at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of DeKalb now offers a monthly community brunch, served from 10 a.m. to noon on the last Saturday of each month. This “pay as you can” community meal promotes sustainability, community education and connectivity.

We met with Erin Elder to discuss the Welcome Cafe’s commitment to sustainable practices and community outreach. Welcome Cafe meals are planned by Terri Mann-Lamb of Sunn Flower Gourmet & Catering, utilizing some locally-grown produce from DeKalb County Community Gardens, eggs from a local farmer, and artisan breads from Monika Merryman of Monika’s Organic Bakery in Geneva.

“We really want to show people how good fresh food tastes,” Elder said.

Favorite dishes include the French toast bake, egg bake and salad. The meals are prepared by community volunteers and the members of the NIU Student Dietetic Association. To reduce waste, non-disposable silverware, plates and linens are used. Live entertainment is provided by banjoist Nathan Dettman and harpist Gretchen Sigwart.

In addition to community meals, another way to increase food security in the community would be the creation of a local food hub to link farmers with regional buyers. Food hubs keep more of the retail food dollar circulating in the local economy. The vision for DeKalb’s food hub would include the Welcome Cafe, a commercial kitchen that can be rented by the hour, and a food storage and processing center. The processing center would allow for the preservation of local produce, increasing its value and shelf life by pickling and making jams, jelly, ketchup and salsa. A food hub would create more jobs in DeKalb, increase farmers' profits, encourage small farmers, and facilitate the distribution of local food.

Visit The Welcome Cafe’s Facebook page for more information. The next pay-as-you-can brunch will be March 29. VAC transportation is available from Colonial House (Walmart) at 9:30 a.m., Hope Haven at 9:40 a.m., Dresser Court at 9:45 a.m., University Village at 9:50 a.m., Gideon Court at 9:55 a.m., and Golden Years at 10:05 a.m.

Green Scene is written by Renee Kopulos and Linda Yates, members of a citizens group working with the City of DeKalb Citizens Environmental Commission. Contact them at readit@midweeknews.com, with “Green Scene” in the subject line.

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