Exploring the food systems in St. Lawrence County

by Elizabeth Hills

The first month of my internship at GardenShare has flown by, leaving me with tons of great experiences. GardenShare’s long term goal is to solve the issue of hunger in St. Lawrence County by connecting the low-income families with local farms. Given this huge mission, I was not sure what to expect or what sort of projects I would be working on. However, I have been thrilled with how much working with GardenShare has allowed me to really get to know the North Country and the people who live here.

One of my favorite parts of this summer has been exploring St. Lawrence County and meeting the local people. Myself and the other summer intern, Anna Kowanko, have been working to educate people who are part of SNAP (formally known as food stamps) on how to use their benefits at local farmers markets. This allows families the opportunity to purchase local, fresh fruits and vegetables while supporting farms in the area and keeping money in the local economy.

Data collected in previous years showed that certain markets in the county have much higher rates of SNAP benefits being used than others. To combat this, we made personalized posters and flyers that give information on using SNAP to hang in each town with a farmers market. For three days, we drove all around the North Country to advertise the opening of market season and to encourage people to use their SNAP cards. We targeted community buildings such as post offices, banks, and churches, which would be visible to everyone in the community.

While on our drive, we came across several hidden gems (mostly restaurants because we wanted the local cuisine) in the North Country. After discovering the lack of eating establishments in Dekalb, we ventured to Herman where we stumbled upon the Lone Wolf Saloon. Surprisingly, our waitress/ bartender was a former St. Lawrence employee who worked as custodial staff for almost 30 years. Other highlights were stopping in Ogdensburg to swim in the St. Lawrence River followed by a quick meal at Phillips Diner  (open 24 hours for those looking for a late night snack).

Another way we have been trying to educate people about farmers’ markets is by creating a video demonstration. We interviewed the Canton farmers’ market manager, Zoe Baker, and acted out the process of using SNAP benefits to purchase fruits and vegetables. Once completed, this video will be posted on the GardenShare website (www.gardenshare.org) and be shown at local neighborhood centers and food banks across the area. I have also created several press releases that get posted in different newspapers and on mentioned on local radio stations.

So far this internship has been amazing and given me a lot of great experience working with the advocacy side of hunger and sustainable agriculture issues. For the rest of the summer, I am working on completing a few biographies of local farms and planning the 2015 Youth Summit, which take place in October.