Appalachia Accessible Food Network
In 2013, the Appalachia Accessible Food Network (the Network) was created to expand and diversify coordinated efforts to measurably increase the availability, affordability and consumption of healthy food among low-income, vulnerable populations in southeastern Ohio.
The Network’s lead partners – Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), Community Food Initiatives (CFI) and Rural Action – each delivered programming critical to improving food security and access in the region, but recognized the potential for significantly greater impact by working in a more collaborative and coordinated way.
According to Leslie Schaller, ACEnet Director of Programs, “By strategically working together over the last several years, the Network has facilitated transformative change across the region. The Network collaboration builds the capacity of each of the organizational partners to address food insecurity, expand food processing and distribution infrastructure and create new economic opportunities for underserved people and communities.”
The Osteopathic Heritage Foundation of Nelsonville (the Foundation) recognized cohesion among several regional organizations dedicated to food access and development of the local agricultural value chain. The identified agencies were eager to collaborate and began by creating a joint theory of change to be implemented over a seven year period.
Following completion of the theory of change, the Network formally launched implementation of the plan with support from the Foundation. To date, the collaborative efforts have yielded impressive results through core program areas:
- Donation Station: contributions are received each week from customers and vendors at the Athens Farmers Market, Chesterhill Produce Auction and from community gardeners committed to distributing fresh, healthy food. The amount of fresh food supplied has grown by more than 60% since 2013, with more than 400,000 pounds of food distributed to nearly 35,000 people in a five-county area.
- Country Fresh Stops: pop-up markets offering fresh, local vegetables, fruits, herbs and a variety of healthy food are located in communities with limited access to healthy foods and high levels of food insecurity. Stop locations include hospitals, colleges and several convenience and retail stores.
- Farm to School: the Network provides local, healthy food to area schools. Produce is procured from 125 local farmers at the Chesterhill Produce Auction, frozen for year-round distribution by volunteers at the Southeastern Ohio Food Bank and Hocking College Culinary Arts Program and distributed to K-12 schools. In 2017, five districts purchased produce through this program serving a total of 5,154 students. This program also supports schools with promotional materials, ongoing technical assistance and education.
- Infrastructure Improvements: the entire food distribution system relies on the availability of adequate storage, transportation and supply chains. The Network recently acquired equipment to expand refrigerator and freezer storage and secured an additional transport trailer, increasing the capacity to distribute fresh food. The Nelsonville Farm and Food Enterprise Center has also expanded its offerings to local food entrepreneurs to include produce and meat processing facilities.
In 2018, The Network launched SEO FOODLINK, a regional, online resource to better inform and connect food insecure families to food resources and help service providers better assess existing systems and to identify resource gaps. Additionally a new pilot program, in cooperation with Athens County Job and Family Services, will offer training to support job-readiness and food industry-specific education to low-income residents, preparing them for employment in food-related businesses.
Learn more about the Appalachia Accessible Food Network by viewing the video below.