PLATTE COUNTY– Wyoming Food Coalition is set to hold its second annual conference this week, Dec. 10-11 via a Zoom format due to the COVID new spikes in Wyoming. The conference is expecting to have Gov. Mark Gordon’s wife, Jennie as a special speaker Dec. 10 which is dependent upon her health status as she was recently diagnosed with COVID.
The conference which has been in the works for the past few months has been organized by the Wyoming Food Coalition which has gained great ground since last year at this time, now becoming a recognized nonprofit organization and also soon to have their 501 ©3.
The Wyoming Food Coalition is a grassroots effort to unite, enable and empower the small and medium range AG producers in Wyoming is in its infancy stages but has picked up a lot of steam with the inclusion of two AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers.
It is called the ‘Wyoming Food Coalition: WY Food Matters,’ and has a vision to help establish “sustainable local food economies in Wyoming that are diverse, thriving an equitable.”
Clayton Jons who works for the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture office in Wheatland said that working groups were formed within the corporation that include: Vibrant Farms and Thriving Local Economies, Strong Communities, Healthy People, Sustainable Ecosystems, Infrastructure-Distribution-Promotion, Fairness & Justice and Policy Strategic Communications & Outreach.
The coalition mission is to strengthen local food systems by connecting stakeholders and simplifying their voices so that Wyoming producers, eaters and environments thrive.
According to Lander resident, Alyssa Wechsler, Food Coalition secretary, the meeting purpose is to share information across working groups, engage new or potential members in the work of the coalition, advance the coalition’s goals and to continue to strengthen relationships and connections.
Wechsler who works for the University of Wyoming managing research projects that focus on the food justice and health issues.
“Our biggest project was looking at the health impact to the home gardening intervention,” Wechsler said. “A lot of different food efforts are on my radar. Specifically, the food justice coalition has been meeting for a number of years and I’ve also been a part of that.”
Wechsler said that she thinks that the coalition will be helping a lot of different efforts that have been going on around the state for quite a few years. She also mentioned that the coalition has been moving quickly to unify and solidify a central hub for many groups who have been out there and alienated, feeling as if they have not been able to move forward.
“It offers a lot from a lot of different angles,” she said. “that when we come together as a unified force we can really have a bigger impact than any one of those groups individually. I think this is a huge potential for the state to grow. There is a lot of room for agriculture. That’s why the coalition is exciting in that it can be tackling things like meat packing and processing, but also how do we increase and make more areas of agriculture visible and strong. And then also I think it’s absolutely vital that we continue to think about how to increase access to these foods for everyone, because a lot of times local are thought of as more for the wealthy or elite. What is exciting is having all of our diverse pieces coming together.”
The agenda for Dec. 10 includes topics such as the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, meat packing and processing, infrastructure, soil health initiative and food security/nutrition policy. Dec. 11 features a WFFA policy workshop, a healthy soils workshop, a meat workshop and a nutrition/food security workshop.
The conference is free to the public and there will be question and answer sessions for those wanting to participate.
Adam Bunker who is the president of the board for the food coalition is also a producer and will be instrumental in overseeing the conference this week.
“I am a producer up in Sheridan County,” Bunker said. “My father-in-law and I have a couple of greenhouses that we grow lettuce all year around hydroponically. We do about 600 heads of lettuce per week. We also do some other leafy greens and herbs in there.”
Bunker is excited as to the progress the Wyoming Food Coalition has made in the past year and says that the conference is not only put forth to make the coalition more visible, but in each area, there is going to be an assessment as to what more is needed in each area for the coming year to make the organization more effective.
The organization in holding the conference in a Zoom format has more than twice what was seen as far as participation in last year’s conference. The ease of not traveling and being able to access from their homes has made organizers wonder if this should be the format going forward.
During the sort of town hall meetings on agriculture needs across the state, the task forces began to gather information and found that everything and everyone was rather disconnected. The need was evident to find a common meeting place and a common informational hub that could help in everything from areas of economic development to marketing to grant writing to links to resources.
The people that were lending a voice to the organizers at the meetings were producers, state agency representatives, small business development council, UW extensional personnel, horticulturists, people from the conservation districts and at times USDA reps.
The group has now gathered a lot of information from these focus groups and are further working to centralize and unify the organization as a hub with many spokes. The idea is to make the small and medium producers feel as if they are not alone out there and work is being done by the coalition to bring people on board as to healthy local food initiatives and getting the grocers, markets and institutions to make a commitment for a bigger percentage of local producers to be used to stock their shelves. This of course would not only promote Wyoming food grown and eaten in Wyoming, but also economically to keep Wyoming dollars in Wyoming.
To get more information on the conference, please email the coalition at: [email protected] and you can also follow them at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for conference updates: @wyfoodcoalition
For more information on the program, please contact either Dr. Gleyn Bledsoe at: [email protected] or Clayton L. Jons at: [email protected]