Community Food Initiatives sows the seeds of self-reliance

A modest station containing a scale and a wicker basket with dollar bills stood out among the other booths selling local produce in the Athens Farmers Market. Jenn Thompson stood near the table informing curious passersby of a chalkboard highlighting the simple cause: “Donation Station.”

Supported by Athens-based Community Food Initiatives, the Donation Station collects monetary donations as well as fresh (preferably local) food contributions year-round.

Program director of Community Food Initiatives Erik Peterson can be found at the Athens Farmers Market on Saturdays along with the rest of the Donation Station volunteers and members. Photo by staff photographer Evan Chwalek.

Program director of Community Food Initiatives Erik Peterson can be found at the Athens Farmers Market on Saturdays along with the rest of the Donation Station volunteers and members. Photo by staff photographer Evan Chwalek.

Food donations  rose dramatically in 2012 with an overwhelming boost of community support. The Donation Station flourished under its new program director, Erik Peterson. In 2012, the program surpassed its goal of 40,000 pounds, ending in a total of 44,000 pounds. Continuing in an up-sweep of numbers, the 2012 total exceeded the 2011 amount by an 11.7 percent increase.

Clearly, the organization is committed to promoting the local food movement; the Community Food Initiatives’ website proclaims the slogan “sowing the seeds of self reliance in Appalachian Ohio.”

“The work is really exciting. We are their only source of fresh produce, so we have a really amazing relationship with the farmers,” Thompson said.

Furthermore, the organization wishes to also offer food that is healthy and fresh.  Throughout the area, 35 food pantries and distribution centers dispersed Donation Station food.

Commonly, food banks ask for non-perishable items because of the longer shelf life.  A lack of nutrition is present in these processed foods. Therefore, recipients’ diets are neglected. The Donation Station’s goal is to boost nutrition at pantries with fresh foods.

With the 2012 nationwide drought, pantries were especially pressed for donations. The lack of rain, as well as the hot, dry conditions, created unfavorable growing conditions for Appalachian farmers.

Corn and grain have difficulty surviving in such an environment. The basic plants are vital for the survival of livestock, not to mention humanity.

A domino effect occurred with the diminishing amount of available product. A lack of crop growth placed a strain on the growers’ profit margin.

Therefore, growers and consumers alike felt the rise of basic food prices. The boost in fresh produce provided significant assistance during this period.

Hunger in the Appalachian region poses a problem. The Donation Station is just one program under the Community Food Initiatives that helps fight hunger and lack of nutrition in the local region.

“The connectivity and empathy that community gardening and the locavore movement in general, which centers around eating good food together …  is part of what makes the town special,” Badger Johnson, Community Food Initiative’s garden and workshop coordinator and AmeriCorps service member, said.

Additionally, Community Food Initiatives often reaches out to the community for volunteers. Johnson contacted Ohio University sophomore Caitlyn McDaniel to provide assistance.

“I think it is interesting they even have to [teach people] about how to eat properly. We don’t understand that food should be available to all,” McDaniel, who also serves as  president of the OU chapter of the Student Sierra Coalition, said.

The planters take the majority of the grown harvest. Some growers instead donate their share to the Donation Station.

The willingness to assist others is infectious in the organization. Passion for the locavore cause radiates from every action and word of the volunteers.

“I have learned that as an activist, building resilient communities is its own reward. I love my town,” Johnson said.

All the volunteers and employees of Community Food Initiatives radiate non-judgmental attitudes. More importantly, their passion for the organization keeps the program flourishing. The logo of hands holding an apple, shovel and spoon ready to fight the battle of hunger, could not fit the mission better.

Community Food Initiatives is based in Athens, Ohio on 94 Columbus Road. For involvement opportunities, call 740.593.5971 or email

One thought on “Community Food Initiatives sows the seeds of self-reliance

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