Students, Faculty, Community Members Gather To Combat Food Insecurity

Hannah Ticoras
April 16, 2014

The solution for solving food insecurity in Athens County? Round up the best and brightest minds in food insecurity, sprinkle in some social innovation, and watch as new ideas are formed.

Got Food?, Ohio University’s first student-led conference on food insecurity, was held at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs on the Ridges on April 4.

The conference was organized by Ashley Williams, in conjunction with Laura Black’s communication studies capstone class, which assisted with Got Food? as part of their final project.

Williams, a freshman research scholar for the Voinovich School, was inspired by a similar event she attended as a high school junior at The Ohio State University on alleviating poverty through entrepreneurship. The idea of a group of individuals from various backgrounds coming together to solve a problem motivated her to replicate the event in Athens.

“There is an even stronger community in Athens,” Williams said. “It made things even better.”

The event began with a presentation by John Glazer, a member of the Voinovich School’s professional staff in entrepreneurship and regional development. Defining social innovation as “the theory of social change,” Glazer told the more than 50 students, faculty, staff, and community leaders in attendance that traditional innovation cannot stand alone any longer.

Glazer touted the idea creation aspect of innovation, but warned that “our poverty is because we don’t know what to do with all of these ideas we have; we need funding and execution,” Glazer said.

Black followed Glazer, explaining the process of creating this event with her capstone class. The forum aspect of the conference was the critical part for her and her class, something they visualized as “coming up with new ideas through talking and listening.”

The presentations were followed by the forum. The participants were divided into groups of about seven each and given questions to discuss, including the root cause of hunger, the personal and collective actions that can be done to decrease food insecurity, and ideas for follow-up projects.

Among the community leaders participating in the forum were Bob Fedyski of Rural Action, Athens City Schools' Assistant Superintendent Tom Gibbs, Chris Linscott of Good Works, Sherri Oliver of Live Healthy Appalachia, Erik Peterson of Community Food Initiatives, Chris MacNeal of the Southeastern Ohio Regional Food Bank and Kerri Shaw, field education instructor in the University's Department of Social and Public Health.
Williams said that multiple future projects and partnerships were discussed, including a partnership with Good Works to create a garden in Chauncey, a program at Bobcat Student Orientation explaining food insecurity in southeast Ohio, and an expansion of the swipe donation program through Ohio University’s Culinary Services.
Ben Fitchett, a senior communications studies major from Black’s capstone class, took notes during the table discussions. Although he does not plan to go into a food insecurity-related field, Fitchett said the forum “definitely impacted the way I think about Athens. It’s a community – not just Court Street.”

Although Got Food? was the first conference of its kind, Williams hopes that it will not be the last. Williams hopes to continue these events, saying she’s considering sustainable agriculture for the next conference.
“[The forums] are special because there is a follow-up that creates action,” she said. “With speakers, you’re just being inspired.”