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Helping Feed the Teton Valley

UI Extension 4-H participants help address food insecurity 

When you think of the Teton Valley in southeast Idaho, you might think of majestic mountains, outdoor adventure or unparalleled wildlife. But you might not think of food insecurity.

Despite being amongst the wealthiest communities in the United States, a report by the U.S. Economic Policy Institute in 2016 shows that the Teton counties on either side of the Idaho and Wyoming border also have the highest income inequality. In Teton County, Idaho, 10.6 percent of the population and 14.8 percent of children are considered food insecure according to Feeding America’s 2015 report.

In 2016, University of Idaho Extension in Teton County began working with the Community Resource Center of Teton Valley (CRCTV) to tackle the issue of food access and hunger relief through UI Extension 4-H Youth Development food donation programs. Giving back to the community through civic engagement and service is one of the hallmarks of the 4-H program.

Two grants from the Community Foundation of Teton Valley helped to make the food donation programs a reality in 2017.

“With my focus in community food systems a lot of what we’ve been looking at through needs assessments is economic inequities in Teton County,” said Jen Werlin, UI Extension educator in Teton County. “I started attending community meetings and the topic of food access and healthy, fresh food came up and I felt that was something that our office could positively impact.”

Bringing Food and 4-H Together

Tying into Werlin’s community food systems programming, 4-H participants grew nutritious and organically grown produce for donation, raised two beehives on a local farm and raised and donated a 4-H market pig to feed underserved individuals and groups identified through CRCTV. Donation recipients included the Seniors West of the Tetons, the Teton Valley Food Pantry and Family Safety Network.

“The Community Resource Center serves people who are generally very low income with high needs,” said Megan O’Brien, CRCTV executive director. “Access to healthy food is limited due to prices and knowledge of how to cook healthy foods. By having the donations, we’ve been able to improve access to healthy produce for clients.”

The market pig yielded an estimated 175 pounds of pork, with an in-kind value greater than $800. Several other 4-H livestock buyers in the community also donated their processed animals to charitable organizations, multiplying the impact of the food donations.

With volunteer, business and philanthropic support, infrastructure, equipment, raised garden beds and supplies were purchased and installed in spring 2017 for the new Teton County 4-H Giving Garden. Over the course of the growing season, UI Extension staff, youth and volunteers cultivated the garden and learned about charitable food donations and food security.

“A lot of businesses came together,” Werlin said. “It became so much more about relationships and creating a dialogue instead of economic impact or quantity of food. The relationship building and furthering that dialogue about access and income inequality in our community.”

The small but productive first-year garden resulted in over 100 pounds of donated produce. Maybe even more important was the impact that the program had on the 4-H participants.

“This connects them to the greater community,” Werlin said. “A lot of projects they do for themselves — maybe they want the money for college. This is showing them the impact they can have beyond growing food themselves and how that can positively impact the community.”

Young child herds three large pigs towards a house in the Teton Mountains.
UI Extension 4-H participant Tyler Sachse helped to raise a market pig for donation to local organizations.

Involving the Community

UI Extension plans to continue working with CRCTV to start a Grow a Row garden donation program in 2018. This program will encourage community members to grow extra garden produce for the CRCTV’s food donation and waste recovery program. 4-H members will help with distribution of the produce.

“I think it’s always important to get more community members involved and make them aware of the needs in Teton County,” O’Brien said. “It’s a resort area, but people don’t realize there’s pretty severe poverty. Jen has a great vision for the valley and she’s been great to work with.”

The Teton County 4-H Giving Garden will also be expanded and refined as the 4-H gardening and beekeeping club grows, and UI Extension educators are working with the fair board and livestock sale committees to improve tracking the outcomes of 4-H livestock sale donations.

“It started with a 4-H program and now we’re getting into larger community member involvement, building upon what we started,” Werlin said. 

UI Extension educator helping child with beekeeping hood and jacket.
UI Extension educator Jen Werlin helps 4-H beekeeping participant with proper beekeeping attire.
Adult and two children in beekeeper outfits look at beehives.
Teton County 4-H beekeeping club members tend to beehives.

Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Article published in February 2018.

University of Idaho Extension

Physical Address:
E. J. Iddings Agricultural Science Laboratory, Room 52
606 S Rayburn St.
Moscow, ID

Mailing Address:
University of Idaho Extension
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2338
Moscow, ID 83844-2338

Phone: 208-885-5883

Fax: 208-885-6654


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Barbara Petty