OSU hosts summit on hunger, food insecurity

More than 300 participants are expected to attend the 2012 Food Security Summit Jan. 19-20 at Oregon State University. The biggest event of its kind in the state, the summit will analyze conditions leading to food insecurity and strive to create solutions.

The event, which is at LaSells Stewart Center, is a joint effort of the Oregon Hunger Task Force, Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon, Oregon Food Bank and OSU. The organizations have combined efforts to work jointly to battle one of Oregon’s biggest issues, food insecurity.

OSU sociologist Mark Edwards, who is helping organize the event, has focused much of his work over the past several years on food insecurity in Oregon.  He said this summit is unusual in that it brings together not only anti-hunger activists but also students, educators, agency leaders and others who have a stake in food security.

Two years ago, the Oregon Hunger Task Force held a summit to identify the greatest needs in Oregon, and to create a five-year plan, “Ending Hunger Before it Begins: Oregon’s Call to Action.” Those needs included increasing economic security for families, improving the local food system to increase both the accessibility and affordability of local food, and improving the safety net for those Oregonians who face food insecurity

Those three areas serve as a framework to help guide agencies and organizations as they direct their efforts toward combating food insecurity, Edwards said. “It’s meant to be a rubric by which we evaluate our activities,” he noted.

The upcoming summit will be a time to check on how the array of organizations and agencies are collaboratively addressing these issues, which Edwards says will be a slow and ongoing process.

“Some of the obstacles to eliminating hunger are huge economic and social structural processes that are hard to reverse,” Edwards said, which is exactly why the conference was created, to bring people together to create solutions to the problem of hunger.

The summit will be very practical, rather than academic, focusing on presentations from people running state agencies and non-profits, although the importance of university-based research in helping solve hunger issues is also emphasized.

“Our goal is to create an environment where people can ask questions,” Edwards said. “And we hope to gather all the input so we can identify the big ideas that come out of the summit.”

And those ideas will help drive the research agenda of academics interested in Oregon’s food insecurity.

There are a number of groups on campus collaborating on the summit, including the School of Public Policy, the School of Language, Culture and Society, Rural Studies, the Office of Outreach and Engagement, and Extended Campus. College of Business Students in the SIFE program are also working on conference logistics.

Dave King, Associate Provost for OSU Outreach and Engagement, said the summit is one of the first his office has been involved with, and is exactly suited to their mission, which is to share information with the broader community and to hear what people think is truly important.

“We should learn as much as we teach, and listen as much as we talk,” he said. Having multiple points of view at the conference will help broaden the discussion.

Sarah Cline, a graduate in the School of Public Policy, is helping Edwards organize the conference. She previously worked with rural and Native communities in the Northern Plains on issues that included food insecurity. She said the diversity of stakeholders she witnessed working on issues there is reflected in the Oregon summit.

“These venues for interaction are invaluable,” she said. “The partnerships cultivated as a result, the policy recommendations that emerge, and the awareness and engagement of new networks are crucial– particularly for rural contexts, where representation in state and federal policies is scarce, where capacity and investment to enact change is limited.

Cline said she hopes that participants walk away inspired by the partnerships they’ll forge.

“I hope they walk back into their communities empowered and ready to launch local awareness campaigns so that statewide support is truly mobilized in support of a policy agenda seeking to end hunger in Oregon,” she said.

In addition to workshops and breakout sessions, there will be lunchtime roundtables, and two plenary speakers, Max Finberg, director of the USDA’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and Dr. Deborah Frank, founder and a Principal Investigator of the Children’s Health Watch.

Registration to the event is closed, but visit the website to watch several main sessions streamed live online: http://oregonstate.edu/conferences/event/2012hungersummit/

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