Many Small Acts, Big Change: The Story of Wyoming Food for Thought Project
We're approaching our 5 year anniversary and thought it was the perfect time to recap the conception and growth of Food for Thought. Hope you enjoy!
Wyoming Food for Thought Project was started in 2012 by two visionary women, Jamie Purcell and Kim Summerall-Wright, who saw a need for a direct response to holes in the hunger safety net of our community, especially concerning childhood hunger.
Our organization began with providing weekend food bags for children during the school year. It was an intentional program that was locally sourced, run, and supported. We continue to strive towards this original purpose. This means that many, many hands are involved in our work, making what we do more sustainable. From businesses, churches, and schools, to individuals and groups, our volunteers and supporters play an enormous part in helping us improve the food system in our community - with many small acts, big change is not only possible, but happening.
Since our inception in November of 2012, we have implemented the first-ever weekend food bag program for children during the summer. In total, we provide approximately 5,100 meals to children each week. This is a 550% growth since the first year.
We know that a local solution to hunger is possible. Our local solution is not the band-aid approach of, “Here’s some food. See you next week.” Our solution is held in the idea that locally grown and locally produced food is not only the healthiest food, but with proper distribution channels, can be the solution to hunger.
In 2013 we were seeking ways to utilize the commercial space we were renting to the fullest potential. Already distributing food bags with locally baked goods as well as rescued food from restaurants, we began to see a need for the next steps. A small unused planter was outside our front door so, with the help of a few larger volunteer groups, we transformed the planter from a rock and bird poop haven, to a fertile place to grow food. It was the first “Food is Free” Garden in the community - and the catalyst for what came next.
After renting the commercial space in downtown Casper which had the adjacent garden bed, we were given the opportunity to move into an empty church building in North Casper. Not only would this space be a better fit for our existing food bag programs, but it had a commercial kitchen as well as an adjacent park and 33 bed community garden. The garden had been the vision of Rotaract of Casper, as well as the Presbytery of Wyoming - our new landlords.
What began as a small 33 bed garden has grown to encompass all of the grounds surrounding our program center, adding up to over 65 beds and one greenhouse. This “urban farm” is the first of 6 sites we are growing on around the city. In the spring, beds are “for rent” at a rate of $10 for the entire season. Any beds not rented by June 1st are planted by our garden committee volunteers and grown for the benefit of the community. Anyone can pick from these garden beds at any time. No questions asked.
In January of 2013, we took over management of the downtown Casper farmer’s market with the intention of meeting many growers and producers who could help us fill our food bags with locally grown and locally produced food. However, we quickly learned that those numbers we hoped for were nonexistent. Thus, we decided to be the change and plant more gardens to have more locally grown produce. Our market (Summer and Winter) accepts SNAP benefits, uses the Double Up Food Bucks Program, and features Power of Produce activities for children.
Recently, we have added curriculum for children and adults at our urban farm. Children who visit learn about healthy soil, composting, plants, and, food. Adult curriculum includes sustainable gardening, cooking, and foraging. We recognize that education plays an enormous role in social change.
One of our latest projects is transforming a retired school bus into a mobile farmer’s market. We are taking the fight against hunger on the road and bringing fresh produce to communities that might not otherwise have access to it. Our aim is to use mobility as a weapon against the lack of nutritious food in our community’s food deserts. In addition, we have a co-op in the works, complete with more greenhouses and garden beds.
Stay tuned for updates on what we're up to in the community!