Gainesville holds first of series on food inaccessibility

Rana Hyder, 42, right, waits to purchase vegetables from Jones Family Farms Saturday at the Alachua County Farmers Market,  at 5920 NW 13th St. The market offers Fresh Access Bucks that make it easier for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to purchase local produce.

Food insecurity is a problem that Gainesville residents have faced for decades. Now the city is looking for answers.

The city will hold a discussion on food inaccessibility and how to fix it at a workshop from 5-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Alachua County Library Headquarters, at 401 E. University Ave.

The conversation will be the first in a series to address issues of food security in Gainesville, said Mayor Lauren Poe. The number of workshops is unknown.

“The main goal for this meeting is to give different people and different organizations who are dealing with the issue an opportunity to share their experiences,” Poe said.

The workshop is part of the city’s overall goals toward equity, he said. Food security has been an issue both nationally and locally since the 1990s.

In September, the Gainesville City Commission told staff to work with UF to create the workshop, where residents can join a discussion around those issues, said Chip Skinner, the city’s spokesperson.

Skinner anticipates between 50 to 80 people will participate. Free childcare for 20 children was offered to parents.

The commission budgeted $1,200 for the workshop at the Thursday commission meeting. The childcare service was given $350, and $850 was allocated for refreshments.

The workshop will begin with a presentation on the research UF and the city staff have compiled since September, Skinner said. It inform people about what the county is currently doing to address the issue.

During the second half of the workshop, attendees will break into small groups to generate solutions the city can implement on a smaller scale, Skinner said. The ideas from the workshop will be made into infographics and presented to the city commission on March 14.

Karen Woolfstead, the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank communications and development director, said about 50,880 residents live with food insecurities in Alachua County.

“What the public doesn’t realize is how many food insecure people there are,” Wolfstead said.

Tarver Shimek hopes to hear from members of the community who are not involved in organizations currently addressing food insecurity, like her program at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences which educates residents on nutrition.

The UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition program, where Shimek is the extension program manager, looks at policy, environment and system barriers to healthy food access, she said. Barriers can be transportation and bus routes, and not being within walking distance of a grocery store.

“I hope the city government gets some good ideas from community members and people facing those issues,” Shimek said.

Alligator staff writer Karina Elwood contributed to this report.