The Ottumwa Courier

April 25, 2014

Growing Wapello County targets food insecurity

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Wapello County has the second-highest rate for food insecurity in the state, and a group of interested community members is trying to solve this problem.

The topic of Friday's Coffee Talk at Market on Main was the food desert, any area where people have to travel 10 miles or more to get affordable, nutritious food.

Amber Payne, an independent, contracted consultant, was hired by the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation to work with interested community members to find practical solutions for hunger in the county. She spoke to the Coffee Talk attendees about what the Growing Wapello Together initiative, a food security consortium, has been working on.

The Legacy Foundation awarded a grant to address hunger in the county, but it soon became clear that the issue was bigger than one group could handle. Growing Wapello Together was formed to look at the bigger community focus.

"We knew we needed to define our community problem; we knew it was different for different populations," Payne explained, noting children and the elderly, for example, have different food security needs. "If you look at the problem — we're the second-highest county for food insecurity in the state — that is all of Wapello County ... so we know it's a multi-faceted problem, and we have to look at the needs where they are."

The group began in April 2013 and had its first working group meeting in September 2013. An average of 14 people now attend the monthly meetings, and there are now 64 individuals on the consortium contact list.

Instead of just jumping in, this group again found how important it would be to gather all the necessary information and be organized in their efforts.

"We all have our individuals issues, but we feel like this is really important — somebody needs to push this issue forward," Payne said. "We really want to look at how we can make an impact. We don't want to just meet to meet. We already have our jobs and we already have enough to do, so if we're going to come together and volunteer, we want to do something that's really going to change lives."

This collection process includes block-by-block, geographic analysis of the food insecurity in the county. The second part, which will continue through the month of May, is one-on-one conversations that will make the issues and needs more personal.

To get involved in Growing Wapello Together, there will be a consortium meeting from 4:30-6 p.m. June 2 at the Hotel Ottumwa. There will also be a series of community conversations in the coming weeks and an action forum from 5:30-8:30 p.m. June 5 at Indian Hills Community College.

For more information on how to get involved, contact Payne at 803-467-2845 or email

— Follow reporter Laura Carrell on Twitter @CourierLauraC