Albany County is home to the highest rate of food insecurity in the state, with 17% of the population suffering from food insecurity on a regular basis.
“Sometimes people assume the issue is people literally don’t have enough food to eat and we definitely have that problem here but from a broader perspective, food insecurity is about not having access to enough healthy food to even have the possibility of living a healthy life,” said Gayle Woodsum, founder and director of Feeding Laramie Valley.
Feeding Laramie Valley is a community based, designed and led nonprofit organization working for food security and an equitable, just and sustainable food system for Albany County residents.
“Our overall mission is to create a long term sustainable local food system,” Woodsum said.
Specifically, Feeding Laramie Valley is working to improve access to healthy food. Woodsum explained barriers such as lack of transportation or financial barriers that restrict Albany County residents from accessing healthy food.
“We really try to underscore the need for availability and access for everyone and for that to be equalized so that everyone has that sufficient access,” Woodsum said.
Feeding Laramie Valley has two community gardens available for residents to grow and then utilize their fresh produce. Feeding Laramie Valley partnered with the University of Wyoming for a four-year study to determine how much produce a backyard gardener can grow in Laramie.
“We learned that a backyard garden, even in this difficult area to grow things can grow enough food in a small 30 square foot area to provide one person with almost three months worth of their needs for fresh fruits and vegetables,” Woodsum said.
In addition to their community gardens, Feeding Laramie Valley has other areas where it grows food to supplement other food assistance programs in Laramie and its own food sharing programs.
“We have five different garden and farm sights in Albany County that we are producing food that we then share with those who need it,” Woodsum said.
One of these programs is the Feeding Laramie Valley shares program, which acts as a low barrier food disbursement program for Albany County residents.
“Saying to us, this is something that I need right now is what qualifies someone to be part of these programs,” Woodsum said.
People can sign up for the shares program online or by calling Feeding Laramie Valley directly. Woodsum told the Boomerang that Feeding Laramie Valley supplies bags to about 400 people every week.
Another program supported by the garden and farm sights is the Kids Out to Lunch program that provides healthy meals for Albany County children and their parents or guardians. Kids Out to Lunch operates Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and also offers a weekend meal plan for those needing healthy food over the weekend.
“It’s very simple and straightforward — Kids Out to Lunch, you don’t make an appointment, you don’t sign up, you just show up,” Woodsum said.
Woodsum added they’re already up to about 150 children every day getting the Kids Out to Lunch meals.
Feeding Laramie Valley is also contributing to sustainability by implementing sustainable growing methods across its garden and farm sights.
“We feed the nutrition back into the soil — we don’t just pull out the plants at the end of the season, we till them under and they continue to feed the soil. We use natural fertilizers and once it’s established we try not to disturb the soil,” Woodsum said.
They’re also planting perennial crops, or ones that come back every year.
“We’re gonna get a good seven or more years from that crop where we don’t have to replant, it preserves water and the nutrients stay in the soil,” Woodsum said.
In addition to Feeding Laramie Valley’s growing methods, Woodsum also talked about how it is utilizing rainwater as another tool for sustainable production.
“We collect the water off the roof of the building we have in LaBonte Park — one good rainfall gives us 500 gallons of water that is now stored instead of just washing away down the parking lot,” Woodsum said.
Feeding Laramie Valley is built on community collaboration and has been a pillar in the Laramie community for nine years now, but Woodsum insisted there’s still more work to be done.
“You can’t think about having a sustainable, community-wide food system and everything is siloed, it’s gonna take all of us working together,” Woodsum said.
She mentioned that Feeding Laramie Valley is partnering with other community organizations to help build a more sustainable, community food system.
“Right now, Big Hollow (Food Co-Op) and Feeding Laramie Valley are working together on creating a mobile market so we can be able to reach the far-flung areas both with retail and food that we’re sharing,” Woodsum said.
“We continue to really look at what we need to build so that the food system here locally could see us all through everyday needs and emergency needs.
“We’re producing food and we’re teaching people how to produce their own food.”