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Hunger Summit Addresses Iowa's Systemic Issues In Food Access

Aaron Doucett
The 15th annual Iowa Hunger Summit hosted food providers across the state. Many of home address food access in underrepresented and/or low-income communities. The Summit meant to address root causes of food insecurity in Iowa.

At the 15th annual Iowa Hunger Summit, food providers virtually discussed how they adapted to the difficulties of last year, which include natural disasters like the derecho and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The theme of this year’s summit focused on transformation and addressing societal and social causes of hunger. Kyle Poorman, the director of the summit and host, referred to those as the "root" cause of hunger in the state.

"Our summit today is designed to be on the cutting edge of the debate, the cutting edge of the discussion and foment action," he said.

People from around the globe attended the summit, organized by the World Food Prize Foundation.

"We must work together towards more just, fair and equitable food systems for everyone," Barbara Stinson, World Food Prize Foundation president said. "People everywhere are experimenting to meet the challenges of 2020 that we're still experiencing today in 2021. We know that half measures are not enough. We must learn to adapt quickly and scale up new solutions due to COVID and climate change and because of the derecho and droughts we're experiencing."

She added achieving healthy food accessibility for all Iowans will not be easy, which is why conversations happening at the summit are so necessary.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, also in virtual attendance, said efforts are still underway to eradicate food insecurity in the state, but access to food has slowly improved over the years.

It is estimated one in 11 adults and one in eight children face hunger in Iowa. (It's important to note that the commonly known cause of hunger is not necessarily a shortage of food, rather access to food.)

"These numbers represent an improvement from years past, but they remain unacceptable in a state that's known for feeding the world. There's more we can do," Reynolds said.

Other organizers said food insecurity has always been present in Iowa, but the pandemic and other natural crises have exacerbated and highlighted it.

Kassidy Arena
The panel "Food Systems Transformations & Action: Confronting Iowa’s Sustainable Food Needs" was live and featured female food providers across the state. They focused on the importance of cross-organization partnerships to make impactful change.

One panelist named Zuli Garcia said she has come across multiple barriers to providing food for some of her clients. She’s the founding president of Knock and Drop Iowa, which provides culturally specific foods to Latinos. She came to Iowa about 25 years ago and said at first, moving from California, it was a culture shock.

“As those years have passed, I think Iowa has changed and has made some changes, but we need bigger and huger changes. And the only way we can make them is if we all sit down and we listen to each other," she said.

Garcia's panel, moderated by Aubrey Alvarez, the co-founder and executive director of Eat Greater Des Moines, focused on food systems transformations and action. The seven panelists represented diverse communities throughout the state. They talked about their challenges and successes in confronting Iowa's sustainable food needs.

Christina Blackcloud, the food sovereignty coordinator for the Meskwaki Nation (Meskwaki Food Sovereignty), said teaching people how to be food independent has been integral for the people she serves.

"And I believe this is a good model that we can replicate across Iowa, across the nation, across the world really. How a community can provide food for the people here, the knowledge behind it and why it is so important," she recommended.

Blackcloud's initiative focuses on education and outreach of food systems as well as developing sustainable food sources. The summit's keynote speaker Janie Simms Hipp, of the General Council for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, specifically mentioned the Meskwaki Nation as a success story for addressing food insecurity on a community level.

The panelists continued to say their goals for this upcoming year revolves around developing community relationships and education on food resources.

The summit, which was almost a full day affair, featured more sessions after Garcia and Blackcloud's panel. A variety of lectures and discussions about the different factors that contribute to food insecurity focused on quality healthcare, racial and economic equity.

Iowa Food Bank Association Executive Director Linda Gorkow said at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lack of volunteers, plenty of food supply disruptions and an overall increased demand. She said the organization went from providing 30 million meals in 2019 to 50 million meals the following year.

"It's the credence of the partnerships that I think will be beneficial for years to come, and we've learned a lot," she said.

Most speakers said they would take the lessons they learned throughout the hardships of 2020 and continue to apply them, so they can avoid similar problems in the future.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines