The school garden beds in Oelwein are blanketed in snow and ice, and the sub-zero temperatures today seem so distant from the heat and humidity of the Northeast Iowa summer. I have been filling up on roots: turnips, carrots, and potatoes. Storage crops grown by local farmers this past season are keeping me nourished and warm during this season of sleep. I am so lucky to have access to healthy, local food. I am so privileged to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day.
Many Northeast Iowa families lack access to local food, and moreover, many are food insecure. In the community in which I serve (Oelwein) seventy percent of the over 1,200 students eat a free or reduced breakfast and lunch everyday. I know that for some students, this is all they eat, more or less. I also know that being low income leaves people at an increased risk for obesity and diet related disease. This seems like a double injustice. Martin Luther King Jr. stated that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Food insecurity is commonly faced by individuals throughout the communities of Northeast Iowa and thus, it is a problem that we all should face head on, together.
Americorps and FoodCorps service members nationwide take a special moment of pause on the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service in January. On this day we celebrate the spirit of service that MLK embodied through championing equity and justice. He passionately proclaimed, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What am I doing for others?'” With this spirit, the eight Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Resource Contacts (Americorps and FoodCorps Service members) collaborated to complete a special service project addressing access to local food and food insecurity throughout the region.
This past Monday, the eight of us assembled almost 100 lasagnas that have now been distributed to food banks throughout the Northeast Iowa. Frozen kale from the School and Community Gardens in Elkader was thawed and added to the cheesy filling. All of the yummy, dairy items that made up the filling, the cottage cheese, cream cheese, Parmesan, and mozzarella were from local companies and were donated to use from the Decorah Quillins and Oneota Food Co-op. The garlic and onions we used were kindly provided to us by Eric Session of Patchwork Green Farm. Gems of flavor grown in summer saved preciously to warm us in a winter meal. Decorah and Waukon’s Fareways provided the lasagna noodles, and Derek Roller of Echollective Farm and CSA donated heirloom tomatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, and squash. Additionally, Derek donated his time and energy chopping, simmering, and blending all of those vegetables to provide us with a local, organic tomato sauce base for our noodles and cheese.
A special thank you goes out to the Oneota Food Co-op for allowing us to cook and assemble the lasagnas in their teaching kitchen. I will speak on behalf of all eight of us in stating that we feel grateful for the community businesses and farmers whose generous spirits have enabled our spirit of service.
Food and Fitness’ slogan is “Together, We Grow Healthy Kids”. Today, felt like “Together, We Grow Healthy Communities”. I am keenly aware that 100 lasagnas are not going change the world but the spirit of service and collaboration used to make them is a delicious move in the right direction.