Best of the West: Western communities combat food insecurity; Coloradan breaks U.S. mountain biking curse; FBI investigator hunts down extinct apples in Oregon

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting June 14, 2021. (Photos courtesy of Nathan Dumlao and The Durango Herald)  

Even as western economies show signs of recovery, roughly 8.7 million people continue to experience food insecurity in the West according to Feeding America. In response, everyone from the federal government to individual citizens is pitching in and finding creative solutions to address the issue. Western Governors, in their policy resolution Rural Development, express support for strengthening local agricultural economies and developing regional approaches to rural food supply chains as potential solutions. 

One of the most effective tactics for combating food insecurity has proven to be free meal programs offered by schools and childcare facilities. Due to the growing number of children affected by hunger throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it will continue to fund free meals for all students regardless of their income through the 2021-22 school year – including the “Seamless Summer Option,” which made it possible for California districts to distribute millions of grab-and-go meals to students when campuses closed last year. 

With help from the federal government, similar programs will continue to serve their communities across the West. Nevertheless, even with these resources available, food banks are struggling to keep up with demand – especially in rural communities. To meet these needs, organizations have devised new ways to generate funding and deliver food.  

Some like, Nevada, which earmarked $7.6 million in its budget for food insecurity, are using leftover funding from the American Rescue Plan. Others, like The Coastal Bend Food Bank in California, which partnered with Valero Energy Co to build a new $30 million food bank, are having success finding funding within the private sector. Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign will invest nearly $2 million in six states, including HawaiiKansas, and New Mexico, to advance SNAP agency innovation and interagency coordination to combat childhood hunger.

At the behest of students, Washington State University Pullman even instituted a $5 per semester fee for undergraduate students to better fund its student food bank and promote food security initiatives. "There's a lot of groups working together and there's a lot of mutual aid right now and that's the thing that I've seen positively come out of the pandemic," Jennifer Denson, founder and executive director of Eugene-based nonprofit Burrito Brigade, told The Register-Guard.

Of course, funding is only part of the equation. 

  • Fresh Food Connect is a Colorado based-app founded by Denver Food RescueDenver Urban Gardens, and Groundwork Denver. It provides a way for home gardeners to pitch in by connecting them with hunger relief organizations that pick up their excess fruits and vegetables.
  • In ArizonaFelicia’s Farm offers volunteers – many of them high school students – an opportunity to ‘feed the people and teach them to feed themselves.’ Each week they provide 700 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables and up to 2,000 cage-free eggs to Casa Maria Soup Kitchen. 
  • Great Plains, North Dakota’s only food bank, uses mobile food banks to reach its rural citizens – especially senior citizens. One citizen was so moved by the issue he started an ‘Adopt-a-Block’program in Bismarck where volunteers take responsibility for bringing food to families living on one block in the area. 
  • The Montana Food Bank Network has gone as far as to send people living in rural areas nonperishable food via the mail.    

APPLE HUNTER: Once an investigator for the FBI and IRS, David Benscoter now searches abandoned farms and orchards in the Pacific Northwest for old species of apples. Most recently, he found seven types of apples in OregonWashington and Idaho that were thought to have gone extinct up to a century ago. As the founder of the Lost Apple Project, he’s found a total of 29 lost apple varieties, including the Streaked Pippin, the Sary Sinap and the Nero. "An apple tree you've never tasted before, a taste somebody hasn't tasted in a hundred years, it's rewarding knowing that we brought these varieties back," Benscoter says.

WESTERN STATES OF FUN: WalletHub recently ranked CaliforniaNevadaColorado, and Washington in the top-10 of the most fun states in America in 2021. Another five western states ranked in the top 25. See where your state finished based on metrics such as best access to National Parks, highest variety of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments, and most marinas.

THE GREATEST OUTDOORS: A new study from the University of Montana analyzed what makes for the most popular campsites. Turns out it’s not the view. In fact, after scouring the data from 23,000 camping reservations from Watchman Campground in Utah’s Zion National Park, Will Rice, an assistant professor of outdoor recreation and wildland management found that a campsite’s most prized asset is its price and availability of electricity. "This information is vital for recreation planning, not only for improving visitor experiences but also for ensuring the protection of ecological resources and fair allocation of recreation opportunities," Rice said. See the study.

RECORD RIDER: Riley Amos, the latest in a long line of top-flight mountain bikers from Durango, Colorado, recently won the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup race for men under 23. The victory, in Leogang, Austria, marked the first time an American man has ever done so in the cross-country discipline. “It was such a crazy feeling,” he told The Durango Herald. “To break this curse, in a sense, I know many more Americans are going to follow these footsteps.” The last time an American men’s cross-country mountain biker stood on top of any World Cup podium was Durango’s Howard Grotts in 2011 at a junior World Cup race in New York. 

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