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By Mike McKibbin

AJefferson County group formed in 2015 to address food insecurity and related issues is continuing its efforts, after a three-year grant was recently renewed.

Food insecurity can occur in areas that lack quality, variety or desirability of diet, and may have signs of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Jefferson County Food Policy Council was funded by a $200,000, three-year grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Cancer, Cardiovascular and Chronic Pulmonary Disease grant program. The grant ended on June 30 but was recently renewed for another three years.

The council also wanted to address the limited use of the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps), the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program and rising child obesity numbers in the county, a well as food insecurity, according to Marion Kalb, food systems coordinator for Jefferson County Public Health.

Kalb noted a county-wide health assessment required by public health regulations found food insecurity to be the second of four main concerns.

Kalb said the council tries to target many of its efforts on areas of high need, or those living below the poverty level. She said the community health assessment estimated that includes 11 percent of the county’s 565,524 residents. Poverty levels were found to be increasing among households with children.

Kalb identified areas in Golden, Wheat Ridge, Arvada and Lakewood as among those with a high need.

“Then later, we want to also focus on the mountain region such as Evergreen,” she added. “The people who work in the service industries in those types of areas often have trouble affording basic necessities like healthy food, so we need to reach them, too.”

The council’s mission is to influence policy to increase equitable access to healthy, local and affordable food and support a sustainable community food system.

Council membership includes farmers, nonprofit organizations, health care staff, community residents, researchers and local municipalities. Those include CSU Extension, the cities of Lakewood, Arvada, Wheat Ridge, Westminster, Golden and Edgewater, LiveWell Colorado, Kaiser Permanente, Centura Health, Senior Resource Center, Arvada Community Food Bank, Jeffco PTA, Jeffco Conservation District, Food Bank of the Rockies and Jeffco Schools.

Kalb said the council works with other agencies such as the Tri-County (Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties) Health Department and the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment “to make sure we have policies that go beyond county lines.”

For example, Kalb said a mobile van that brings fresh fruit and vegetables to high-need communities in Denver has seen only limited success.

“We believe that a policy of serving nearby areas would expand its reach,” she noted.

Other areas the Food Policy Council focused on included establishing a 12- to 15-plot community garden that is planned to be expanded to 30 to 35 plots next year. The council also works with close to 10 area farmers markets to encourage the use of SNAP benefits and double the amount of eligible food purchased to $20, which is then matched by the SNAP program.

“We’ve seen some pretty tremendous growth in that area,” Kalb added, to around $20,000 this year.

A council goal of seeing the federal Farm Bill include small farms, urban farming and conservation was recently endorsed by the county, Kalb noted.

For instance, the Senate version of the bill includes a provision to encourage and expand the use of steel “hoop” houses as year-round greenhouses to protect crops from hail and extend growing seasons and incomes of small farmers, she stated.

Crop insurance for urban and small farmers is another policy area of focus with the Farm Bill, Kalb said.

The council meets the third Thursday of every month and is open to anyone with an interest in increasing food security and providing access to healthy foods for all county residents.

For more information, contact Kalb at mlkalb@jeffco.us or 303-239-7159.