Friday, September 29, 2017

Reporter rides along with food-bank delivery truck to examine one rural county's food insecurity

Food bank director Jeff England distributes food to residents. (Photo by Lisa Morehouse)
A great story from The Food & Environment Reporting Network zeroes in on tiny Trinity County in California to tell readers about why this rural area is struggling--and what one man is doing to help. Though more than 10 California counties have higher poverty rates, Trinity is still one of the state's most food insecure places. To find out why, reporter Lisa Morehouse rode along with Jeff England, the director of the Trinity County Food Bank as he began his monthly food distribution run around the mountainous northern California county.

She quickly discovered that the roads can be treacherous, and the nearest large grocery store is more than 100 miles away in Eureka or Redding. And Trinity County residents struggle with opioid addiction, as many places in rural America do (Trinity County, as we mentioned in a recent blog piece, has more opioid prescriptions than people). Some have criticized England's food bank, saying it only enables drug addicts. "We don’t judge people, and those druggies have kids. The kids might not get food normally," England told Morehouse. Besides, England says he struggled with addiction many years ago. "A lot of people don’t know what it is to be hungry,” he told Morehouse. "But if you’ve ever been hungry, it’s a horrible feeling. You’re weak. You can’t do anything. You don’t have any ambitions. I’m so happy to be able to turn the table and be able to help people that might have been in my shoes before."
Trinity County
(Wikipedia map)

Opioid addiction isn't the only cause of the food insecurity in Trinity County. At one food bank stop, Greg Raines told Morehouse he was frustrated because of the lack of senior housing, and that the influx of marijuana farmers have caused rents to increase. He worked in a now-closed sawmill in the town of Hayfork for 17 years until he broke his back; now he gets about $800 a month in social security.

Morehouse found that there are very few farmers in Trinity County. Sue Corrigan, the manager of the farmer's market in Weaverville, said only about 10 farmers sell produce there. Partly because the territory is so mountainous, but locals say the government flooded much of the county's arable land with a reservoir from the Trinity Dam. "We’ve had three different rushes: First the gold rush, second the timber rush, and now the marijuana rush which is called the green rush," Corrigan told Morehouse. "The focus has been on other industries and not a food sustainable industry."

"England says he and his team have more than doubled the amount of food they’re bringing into Trinity County in the last year. The Food Bank and Trinity County Food Assistance deliver one bag or box of food to 2,500 households each month. That’s 20 percent of the county. And they could do more, but their antiquated refrigerator and freezer are so small, sometimes they have to decline donations of perishable food," Morehouse reports.

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