"OH Really?" It's Time to Eat With the Summit Food Coalition

Jan 29, 2019

Have you heard of the Summit Food Coalition? It’s been growing rapidly for the past year under its first full-time executive director. This week, “OH Really?” explains the coalition’s mission to help feed Northeast Ohio.

Tom Lukes wanted to know, “what is the food coalition and what is it trying to do in Northeast Ohio?” Lukes lives in Cuyahoga Falls. In warmer months, he calls his yard a “food forest” of peppers, tomatoes and eggplants. He asked about the Food Coalition because he wanted to bring its work to a wider audience, although he has some familiarity with it because, until recently, he served on its board.

“I believe now there’s a good foundation by which the organization can help people become more aware of how local food can strengthen us as individuals and as a community.”

Four areas of focus
The Summit Food Coalition was mostly volunteer until a year ago. At that time, Beth Knorr – who managed the Countryside Conservancy’s farmer’s markets for a decade -- became the coalition’s first full-time executive director.

“We actually have four areas of focus. We like to call them the A’s and E’s. It’s Access, Advocacy, Entrepreneurship and Education.”

Education includes working with students in the Akron Public Schools’ culinary program, or providing grants for people who take courses on how to start community gardens through Let’s Grow Akron. That’s one way to access fresh food, which Knorr says can be a challenge.

“Whether or not they have a grocery store in their neighborhood. Whether or not their school has a free or reduced lunch program. How do families access food in their daily lives? But what the quality is, and does that support our local agricultural community? That creates more jobs locally, and that’s why the entrepreneurship is key.”

Going to market
Access and entrepreneurship come together at farmers markets like the one run by Countryside Conservancy in Bath. Beth Knorr shops there almost every Saturday morning.

“My next meal is probably polenta from Mud Run Farm, and roasted root vegetables from Morningside Farm.”

As she browses, Susan Schmidt has a question. Her family farm produces honey, vegetables and eggs.

“Can we get someone to come from the food back to the farmer’s market? So when there’s just a few bunches of things leftover – but it’s more than I can eat, and not enough left to sell to somebody else [or] to a restaurant – that can just get donated to the food bank? And it would be easy for us.”

Knorr suggests, “it might be easier to work with an individual pantry than the food bank itself. I could get you in contact with the folks at the food bank who could maybe make some suggestions on where might be a good place to do that.”

Schmidt says her “chickens don’t need all that chard. They have other things!”

Knorr says getting ideas like that -- and seeing if they’re feasible – is the goal of the food coalition.

“How do we integrate the different pieces of the food system so that it works better for everybody?”

Going vegan
Building those connections is important to Julie Costell of Ms. Julie’s Kitchen, a vegan restaurant in Akron. She’s also a food coalition member, and at the market on Saturday, she was doing a brisk business in marshmallow, s’mores with chocolate and coconut-bacon with maple vegan donuts. She says the coalition can be described as a way to build ties within the area’s “food ecosystem.”

“Whereas I focus on the business side and the entrepreneurial side of local food, others are focused on the education part. Health equity. Teaching. We have committees that form around different issues. But for me, mostly, it’s about creating jobs and an ecosystem where we are making money. So we’re not all non-profits out here competing for the same dollars.”

She gives examples of how she works within that ecosystem to bring her vegan products to market.

“My apples are local. My spelt flour I get from an Amish local farmer. He grinds it fresh for me every week. My spelt, my oats, my open-pollinated organic corn for my corn flour. We grow a lot of our kale.”

Time for lunch
After filling her shopping bag with some rutabagas and choice cuts of meat, Beth Knorr is ready to go home and start making lunch. As she looks around the market, she acknowledges that many of the shoppers in Bath may not appear to be food insecure. But for people who are, she’s Advocating -- that fourth piece of her “two A’s and two E’s.” She says the food coalition continues to work toward getting farmer’s markets to accept SNAP benefits. The coalition is working on legislation for Akron City Council to update urban farming ordinances. And next month, at the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s “Garden Affair,” one of the exhibitors will be the Summit Food Coalition.

“It’s a little bit economic development, it’s a little social service, it’s a little strategizing. It’s a little bit of everything.”

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