WV FOODLINK at West Virginia University unveils online resource hub to emergency food providers in West Virginia
On February 9, 2015 the WV FOODLINK team traveled to Parkersburg, WV to unveil foodlink.wvu.edu for the first time. Hosted by the Sister’s of St. Joseph Charitable Fund and Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the demonstration brought together representatives from the state’s two largest hunger relief agencies Mountaineer Food Bank and Facing Hunger Food Bank, the WV Perishable Foods and Medicine Project, Volunteers Organized Against Disaster as well as representatives from the WV Council of Churches, Our Community Foundation and Bernard McDonough Foundation key supporters hunger relief and health projects throughout the state.
In the demonstration WV FOODLINK Director Bradley Wilson retraced the genesis of the project and the hard work of our research and design teams in the Department of Geology and Geography and West Virginia GIS Technical Center at WVU. Associate Director Joshua Lohnes, Research Assistant Thomson Gross and Outreach Coordinator Jenna Mosely fielded questions and provided insight on the purpose, process and promise of the online resource hub.
Following the demonstration dialogue among the participants revolved around the importance of ensuring a resilient emergency food network and the role of WV FOODLINK in meeting those goals. Participants discussed the value of research and the importance of communication in foster shared vision among emergency food service providers, regional food system practitioners, disaster response teams, local and state policy makers, religious institutions, and the general public. The WV FOODLINK team invited all to take ownership over the online resource hub; thinking of it as a “learning commons” that each stakeholder group might claim as their own.
What is food insecurity? Who is hungry? How do we measure hunger? How do we represent hunger in print, on a map, or in our social networks? How do our conceptions of hunger affect our strategies to serve people who need food resources? For the past 18 months the WV FOODLINK research team has painstakingly wrestled with with these questions. We are not the first to do so of course. As households increasingly find it difficult to access food on a regular basis many have gone before us to develop methods and standards that might help a project like this one determine who is hungry, where they are, and how to resolve the problem.
The USDA Food Desert Map provides researchers across the country with valuable spatial statistics on food access. Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap offers an attempt to provide a county scale analysis of food insecurity rates. While these maps and the statistics behind them are helpful, they also tend to essentialize hunger and food access into a thing that can be measured quantitatively, in the process hiding important nuances in the everyday lived realities of those struggling to make ends meet.
In this section, we work to provide regular glimpses into the work of food assistance providers and the lives of those that they serve. We’ll explore where this food comes from, why and how different households access it and highlight the labor involved to keep it all moving. There are also many novel initiatives happening across the state to address growing food access gaps we want to highlight, as well as open this space up to others who want to express what food insecurity means in their lives and communities.
Looking beyond the scale of individuals stories we’ll also be exploring political and economic processes unfolding beyond our state’s borders that contribute to the difficulties many face access sufficient nutritious food. By engaging with wider food security debates across the country and relating them to the Appalachian context, we hope this forum will become the fount of a fruitful discussion among multiple stakeholder groups including service providers, policy makers and those accessing food assistance services.