This past week, church leaders, laity, farmers, and students gathered at Mount Olive College for the Down to Earth Ministry Conference. Come to the Table joined with The Interfaith Food Shuttle to facilitate a workshop on “Growing Food and Growing Community: Feeding Rural Neighbors with Local Food”. Over the past few years, Eastern North Carolina has ranked high in national studies on food hardship and childhood food insecurity. In 2010, the state’s first congressional district had the second highest rate of food hardship in the country; 31.8% of congressional district residents struggled to find affordable, healthy food for their families. During the workshop, participants discussed the reasons they saw in their community for chronic hunger and food security. Frequent answers included: Unemployment Lack of education about how to grow and cook nutritious foods Lack of coordination among local agencies and ministries to pool resources for more effective strategy Lack of transportation Transportation was the most frequently noted issue during our discussion around access to healthy food. In rural areas, the most food-insecure segments of the population, elderly and children, have a particular challenge in getting to grocery stores, farmers’ markets, or emergency food relief. Local ministries have played an important role in addressing this, with programs such as Meals on Wheels and Backpack Buddies. At February’s conference, it was clear that ministries, farmers, and community members are continuing to seek and create innovative solutions to rural farming communities’ lack of access to healthy food. One family associated with the Mt. Olive Presbyterian Church has started growing vegetables on their farm of mostly cotton and tobacco, and distributing it to to the homes of customers in Wayne County. Food usually arrives within 12 hours of being harvested, and it is the same price if not cheaper than produce at the grocery store. Kristal Jones, who runs the operation with her husband, also includes recipes in the delivery for how to prepare and freeze the produce. This season they plan to expand the program and deliver to more businesses as part of company’s workplace wellness programs. More about Jones Farming’s Delivery system can be found here in an article in the Goldsboro News-Argus. To learn more about the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Model that the Jones Farming business uses, read Come to the Table’s CSA factsheet.