The 2010s: Focused on Food

By Lisa Plachta, Active Member

Resilient. Agile. Responsive. Adaptable.

These words defined the Junior League of Duluth during the 2010s as its members adopted The Association of Junior Leagues International’s Issue-Based Community Impact Model (IBCI). This model encouraged narrowing each League’s focus to a single issue while broadening its connections to other community organizations. IBCI also gave the opportunity for “Members to develop their skills and be involved in determining how the League engages the community” and for “Leagues to sustain impact by means of diverse community relationships aimed at creating meaningful and long-lasting change.”

The economic downturn of 2008 brought a dramatic increase in the number of US households classified as food insecure by the USDA. In 2012, that number reached the highest level recorded since monitoring began in 1995, remaining persistently elevated throughout the decade. Food insecurity is “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” It is also associated with many adverse and well-documented social, physical, and psychological outcomes, especially in households with children. Adding to its early history of commitment to children’s nutrition and building on current projects, JLD responded to this crisis by aligning all programming, grant making, and educational experiences around the single issue of food insecurity in the Twin Ports Community.

Seed money for school gardens; packaging food for Second Harvest’s “Backpack for Kids”; a remodel of CHUM’s food bank; speaking at and sponsoring Food Access/Justice Summits  – these are just a sampling of the many tactics JLD employed to impact food insecurity. Members’ knowledge of food insecurity was enriched by speakers at our GMMs and they were given opportunities to experience a mere taste of the problems and limitations endured by people who are food insecure. Over this decade, JLD distributed more than $78,000.00 in grants from Community and Endowment funding to community organizations for food insecurity related needs.

JLD also initiated “Let it Grow,” a new strategy consisting of several large scale projects. The Let it Grow Committee began working with the Duluth Children’s Museum to develop new summer programming focused on introducing guests – and children from the nearby Boys and Girls Club – to how food is grown. JLD also build planting beds at the museum for children to use as they experienced for themselves how to grow food from seed to harvest.

Next, the Let it Grow Committee brought together multiple community partners, including The City of Duluth, Zeitgeist, Community Action Duluth, and Wagner Zaun Architecture, to build a Deep Winter Greenhouse for Seeds of Success. JLD played a vital role in determining both the location and design for this greenhouse, and contributed $110,000.00 in funding for the building. The Deep Winter Greenhouse is located within Edible Duluth Denfeld, a food-centered space at the intersection of N 45th Ave W and Grand Ave. The greenhouse now provides employment opportunities for Seeds of Success and produces affordable healthy food for sale at Community Action Duluth’s Winter Farmers Market. It also presents a unique educational opportunity for students at Denfeld High School. An outdoor classroom funded with grants awarded to JLD was built on an old garage foundation at the greenhouse site. Its colorful outdoor furniture brought the final touches to this useful space.

A third project,” Providing a Pantry,” offered free pantry items to SNAP customers during two seasons of the Lincoln Park Farmers Market. This project increased awareness of the Market and helped customers stretch their food budget. JLD continued its support of a SNAP customer purchase matching program and the Power of Produce Club at both locations of Community Action Duluth Farmers Markets for the remainder of the decade.