Public servants tackle food insecurity | Blogh

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Public servants tackle food insecurity

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 4:19 PM

According to the website there are more than 20 varieties of edible trees in Pittsburgh. And one organization is suggesting that the fruit from these trees be harvested and given to local food banks.

This notion was behind one of the many innovations presented at the Public Allies leadership conference today. Public Allies places participants with local nonprofits, and several of the allies in this year’s class have spent the past year working on the issue of food insecurity.

Among them was Rose Smiechowski, who was inspired by one of her former Chatham University instructors, Carolyn Barber, to co-found Hidden Harvest Pittsburgh, an organization that promotes urban harvesting initiatives throughout the city. Similar organizations, like one in British Columbia, were able to harvest 30,000 pounds of fruit in one year from urban trees.

“Fruit tree harvesting is a way to make use of a neglected and valuable source of food,” Smiechowski said. “Apples down the street have the same benefits as apples from the store, and are often fresher.”

Meanwhile, according to Jacob Myers, another Public Allies presenter, 20 to 40 percent of the food that’s grown in the United States is never consumed.

Myers spent his year with the Pittsburgh Community Foodbank; his presentation focused on how individuals can reduce their own food waste. By reducing wasted food, Myers said, households can reduce their spending on food; the resulting savings could be given to the Foodbank, which takes every dollar donated and turns it into $5 worth of food.

Jessica Ruffin, who serves as the Public Allies site director, acknowledges the innovations presented throughout the day are ambitious, but she hopes the local leaders invited to attend the conference were listening.

“I know it's very idealistic, but the reason we have this conference is we realized some of the insight [our allies] had needed to be shared with a much broader audience,” Ruffin said. “We're hoping a good bit of the innovations are something they can grab and take back to their organization."

Another ally, Linda Kuster, recently accepted a position with the YWCA, where she has been helping individuals with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program application process. She said 35 to 40 percent of applications are denied, and more support is needed to help people navigate the process.

“It's no secret that there's a huge problem with Pennsylvania's food-stamp system,” Kuster said.

The conference concluded with keynote speaker Leah Lizarondo, a food and health advocate and creator of The Brazen Kitchen, a healthy-living blog. While Lizarondo praised initiatives like urban farms and food education in schools, she said local government needs to play a greater role in the health of the city.

“Those initiatives are limited because they're not mandated by the city,” Lizarondo said. “We need the backing of the city.”