County, city launch plan to combat hunger, food waste

Health commissioner: ‘Food availability is a public health crisis within Montgomery County.’

Twenty-two percent of the children in Montgomery County experience food insecurity, and local officials are making moves designed to change that.

Montgomery County and the city of Dayton unveiled a Food Equity Plan at the the county’s Food Summit at Sinclair Community College on Wednesday. It is the county’s first such plan, and it will draw on lessons learned from how the community addressed the opioid crisis and infant mortality.

“Access to healthy food is critical to the overall health of our community,” said Montgomery County Health Commissioner Jeffrey Cooper. “Too many children experience food insecurity.”

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Montgomery County has several food deserts, or areas where residents live more than a mile from the nearest market. And a growing number of grocery stores in the Miami Valley are closing.

Wednesday’s summit brought the community together to address healthy food options, affordability, the role of local farmers and ecosystems, as well as the impact of poverty and hunger on citizens.

A Food Equity Coalition was created to implement the Food Equity Plan. The coalition was also announced on Wednesday.

“The Food Equity Plan is an action plan that will be our blueprint for a better future,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge, “a future where everyone has access to healthy food and fewer people go hungry; a future with less food instability and overall food waste.”

Food eaten at the summit was composted at the Foodbank’s new compost station. It is the first in-house compost station in the Miami Valley and also was unveiled Wednesday.

The Foodbank’s new composting tech, located at 56 Armor Place, will eliminate 80 tons of food waste per year, Dodge said. The Foodbank bought the composter from Green Mountain Technologies.

“It’s a tool in the toolbox,” Dodge said of the composter. “This is just a wonderful thing that’s going to take waste away from the landfill and put it in the soil to make healthier food. That’s what we want here in our community; good, healthy food that’s grown locally.”

Former U.S. Ambassador Tony Hall said that northwest Dayton is one of the largest food deserts in Ohio. The Gem City Market, to be located on Salem Avenue, will relieve some of that food insecurity stress about a year from now.

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The Needmore Road Kroger closed earlier this month and the Foodtowns in Trotwood and Tipp City shuttered their doors in September.

Dodge said the Montgomery County Economic Development Department is working on how best to reach out to grocery stores to come to the county, but that isn’t enough.

“We’re going to have to start thinking outside the box,” Dodge said. “We’re going to have to start thinking about how we’re going to get food to individuals who can’t get to the grocery store or there is no grocery store around there.”

Some of those strategies could include teaching people who live in food deserts to grow gardens in their backyards or to implement a mobile food truck that would drive into areas that have lost their grocery store.

Cooper said the Food Equity Plan will rely heavily on collaboration with other county agencies. He compared the approach the county has taken with the Food Equity Plan to the way Public Health has addressed other crises.

“We have now a Food Equity Coalition that has adopted the same framework we’re using to respond to the opioid crisis and the infant mortality crisis,” Cooper said. “Food availability is a public health crisis within Montgomery County.”

The overarching objectives of the Food Equity Plan are to reduce food waste, reduce food insecurity and to increase the availability of fresh, local and healthy food.

“We needed a structure in place with an actual plan with specific goals and objectives,” Cooper said. “Now we’re bringing the entire community together to arrive at a common agenda, mutually re-enforcing activities, sharing data, establishing performance metrics and ultimately helping those most vulnerable and those most in need.”

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