The Women Creating Innovative Solutions To Fight Hunger

By Beth Reese Cravey
The Florida Times-Union

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet the women who are thinking outside the box by coming up with unique solutions to battling food insecurity.


Three Jacksonville women who came up with innovative direct-from-the-farm ideas about how to combat hunger in Northeast Florida won top honors in a regional competition and next month will pitch their projects in a state contest.

Angela TenBroeck of Foodery Farms aims to sell fresh food in street-side food machines and Valerie Herrman of Ohana No Ka ‘Oi envisions “convenience farm” franchises along the planned Emerald Trail.

Meanwhile, Alina Gonzalez of Urban Folk Farm wants to expand an initiative she already has underway: delivering farm-fresh bags of vegetables to homebound seniors in subsidized housing, who can use food stamps as payment, and showing them easy-to-follow cooking variations.

They were the finalists among 16 entrepreneurs who participated in the inaugural Block by Block Food Insecurity Challenge in Jacksonville, one of four regional competitions sponsored by Guidewell, the parent company of Florida Blue.

On Oct. 16 they and nine other finalists from across the state, each of whom received $2,000 prizes at the regional level, will compete for a $20,000 prize to implement their vision.

“That would be awesome,” Gonzalez said. “I want to share this [senior feeding] program. It is so easy and so sustainable for other small farms.”

The Block by Block Food Insecurity Challenge stemmed from longtime discussions at Guidewell Innovations, a nonprofit unit of Guidewell that focuses on health and wellness, about how to address food insecurity, said Executive Director Kirstie McCool.

About 3 million people in Florida, including 800,000 children and 500,000 seniors, are food insecure, which means they do not have close access to sufficient and nutritious food.

In July a statewide challenge was issued “to all entrepreneurs, nonprofits, innovators and organizations to accelerate innovative thinking and make Florida communities more food secure.” Guidewell’s statewide partners are Synapse and AdventHealth.

“We want to applaud all of the applicants for their passion and commitment to developing innovative strategies that address food insecurity in our communities, a key social determinant of health that affects millions of people throughout Florida,” she said. “Our goal with a challenge like this is to foster innovation and collaboration while providing resources to improve the health and well-being of people in our communities.”

Putting the question out to entrepreneurs who are already working on the issue across the state proved eye-opening, McCool said.

“The work that all the participants are doing is just unbelievable — the focus and the level and quality of what we have going on,” she said. “It’s amazing work they are doing with limited budgets and resources.”

At the Jacksonville event, the judges were so impressed with the offerings that they created a fourth award. They gave a $2,000 Community Service Award to Hippie Que, a nonprofit food truck that collects nearly expired food from grocery stores and food waste from restaurants and other local sources and transforms it into hot meals for homeless people.

Also, McCool saw potential for applicants to help each other make progress. So she decided to bring them back together at a later date.

“It was moving for me personally to watch the collaboration going on between everyone in the room, connecting the dots that can be connected,” she said.

Foodery Farms’ mission is simple and ambitious: “To feed our community with healthy, consistently fresh and always safe food while educating future generations about the value of a healthy diet. We are passionate about changing lives with agriculture.”

CEO TenBroeck and her family have farmed hydroponically in North Florida since the 1970s. Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil by floating their roots in chemically enhanced water. She launched Foodery Farms in the Whitehouse section of Jacksonville, in a food desert and brownfield area, to develop “controlled environment facilities” and use hydroponics to grow produce year-round. She plans to expand the business locally, statewide and nationally.

“We don’t use the dirt. This is next-generation agriculture, smart agricultural technology,” she said.

Her Guidewell pitch involved placing vending machines in neighborhoods, offering produce from Foodery and other farms, as well as other food items, for a nominal cost available to people who need it 24 hours a day. Residents could use money, credit and debit cards or EBT, or food stamp cards, to buy goods.

“We would put them in [food desert] communities … that have kind of been forgotten. Places where grocery stores are not going to go,” she said. “Meeting an immediate need.”

Gonzalez of Urban Folk Farm already brings low-cost, nutrient-dense, fresh vegetables from her family farm to about 280 seniors in multiple subsidized housing complexes. The deliveries provide fresh vegetables to seniors who may lack the mobility to get them on their own.

They get $10 bags at half the cost, through their food stamps, and sometimes less with coupons. She also offers demonstrations to show them simple ways to use the vegetables, whether raw or cooked, she said.

“We’re creating a community around food,” she said.

Herrman of Ohana No Ka ‘Oi said she has been farming for years. But her Guidewell proposal stemmed from her connections with leadership at Groundwork Jacksonville, the nonprofit leading planning for the so-called Emerald Trail, which will run through downtown and connect surrounding neighborhoods.

The trail “is going to be one of the best things to happen in Jacksonville,” she said, and she wants to align her food-insecurity idea with “people who are doing great things.”

Herrman envisions small “convenience farm” franchises placed along the trail, which includes food deserts. The franchises would provide jobs for farmers, regenerate unproductive land and provide access to fresh food to people who need it — without an expensive distribution network.

“It just made sense, with my farming experience and putting all the bits and pieces together trying to get food to people,” she said. “It seemed like a perfect alliance.”

Ohana, she said, is Hawaiian for “family, even if not blood-related … that no one gets left behind.” And No Ka ‘Oi means “the best.”

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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