Our Story

Mission & Vision

Mission

Tackling the causes of hunger by creating realistic pathways out of poverty.

Vision

We envision a Stark County where a culture of good nutrition creates a better quality of life as well as a community that is rejuvenated and empowered, free from the restraints of systematic poverty. 

We are connecting growers, consumers, and producers to help create a better food system that focuses on making locally sourced, nutrient-dense, and affordable foods available to everyone in Stark County.

We support learning and teaching opportunities that promote the growth, use, and sale of local foods and assist in the growth of urban agricultural and food employment opportunities.

Six Observations

Where to start?  Well, it might make sense to first explain that our non-profit agency has been around in various community development roles in Northeast Canton, Ohio since 1983 but we didn’t really start using the name StarkFresh until 2012.  What changed in 2012?

The StarkFresh story started with six observations.

  • First observation

Stark County has large groups of individuals without continuous access to nutritious, affordable meals.  

There are a few ways this takes shape. Perhaps you have heard of food insecurity, where an individual is unsure when or if they will be having their next meal.  In Stark County, roughly 15% (53,880 people) of all residents and 21% of all children (17,190) fall into this category.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), being food insecure means lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.  The USDA defines food insecurity as a state in which “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”  It has been proven that a lack of adequate nutrition affects physical and mental health, life expectancy, the ability to maintain employment, or the capacity for learning in school.

  • Second observation

There are many people who have little to no access to somewhere offering affordable, nutrient-dense foods for sale.

This is evident in several ways.  Looking at health statistics in Stark County, and even more specifically in Canton, OH it is clear that the barriers that have been created to deny access to certain residents have created catastrophic effects on their health.  In Stark County, 12.9% of all adults aged 20 and above have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Many of those affected live in an area best described as being a Food Apartheid and/or near to a Food Swamp

Using the term Food Apartheid is a more accurate representation to explain what is commonly referred to as a food desert, which the USDA has defined as being a location in which an individual lives more than 1 mile away from a grocery store that offers healthy food.  Using the term Food Apartheid more accurately reflects the fact that these areas are not desolate, empty neighborhoods, but are neighborhoods who have been deemed to be unworthy of having access to nutritious food.  They are a form of apartheid because, in most cases, especially in urban environments, the lack of availability of healthy food disproportionately affects communities of color. Under these conditions, whole communities are geographically and economically isolated from healthy food options.

Food Swamps are geographic areas with a high density of establishments that sell high calorie fast or junk food.

Instead of supermarkets or grocery stores, the neighborhoods throughout our community may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and leads to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

  • Third Observation

People today are disconnected from the food of our ancestors and not only do most people not have sufficient knowledge on how to grow their own food, many people do not even understand how the food they consume is produced.  To compound the problem, the number of people who are “recipe” or “cookbook literate” is decreasing every year, creating yet another large barrier for those same people to be able to consume more nutrient-dense foods.  

Cookbook literacy is the ability of someone to be able to read and understand the recipe that they are given.  If the terminology being used in the recipe is unfamiliar to the reader, then recipe itself becomes inaccessible and is rendered worthless.  We now have generations of individuals who have never been taught how to read and understand a recipe, which is another contributing factor in the reduction of actual from-scratch cooking being done.

  • Fourth observation

It seems not everyone has the same starting point when it comes to being able to create meals.  If a person has learned the cooking skills necessary to create a homemade meal, and they are “cookbook literate” and they can understand the terminology required to read a recipe correctly, they may not have access to the physical tools and utensils required to make that meal.  Giving people ingredients and a recipe card is not the way to fight hunger.  There needs to be a way to create a pathway for people to learn a simple way to create their own meals, with the items they have access to cook with and using the cooking knowledge they already possess.

  • Fifth observation

There seem to be many area agencies that claim to be “fighting hunger” yet as their budgets increase from year to year, so do the number of people relying on their services, while the average income level of the people they are trying to help continues to decrease and the number of people experiencing poverty continues to steadily increase.  It appears that whatever method they are trying, clearly does not seem be working.  One must look further into data to see a more realistic picture of what is going on.  As Stark County poverty rates have decreased over the past few years and the overall percentages in cities such as Canton have also retracted, the rates of poverty in certain areas, where there are the highest concentrations of poverty, continue to get worse.  In Canton, 49.8% of the residents under the age of 18 are living in poverty.

  • Sixth observation

The number of people living in or near poverty levels is staggering, especially in areas such as Canton, OH, where 31.8% (22,948) residents are living in poverty.  There is an undeniable, connection between poverty, people with poor health, and issues of hunger.  If you drill down these numbers even further, you will find in the areas with the highest concentrations of food insecurity, poverty and serious health problems live 13% of Canton’s overall population (8,579 residents).  Within this 13%, 56.5% of all households earn less than $24,000 yearly and 69.4% earn less than $34,000.

In Canton, 45.45% of the residents living in poverty are black or multi-racial and 25.55% are white.  This is significant in that it is disproportionately higher than the ethnic makeup of Canton which is 65.9% white and 29.8% black or multi-racial.  It is statistically obvious that being born and growing up in and around poverty, for many, is a lifelong sentence.

From these six initial observations arose six questions.

  1. How can we help facilitate the creation of neighborhoods with access to affordable, nutrient-dense groceries?
  2. How can a system, that has been designed over decades to keep people in poverty, be overcome?
  3. Is there a way to reduce barriers for people to begin growing their own food?
  4. How can we not only increase “cookbook literacy” but remove physical and knowledge barriers for people to begin cooking their own food?
  5. How are people expected to consume better food if they don’t even have the know-how on how to prepare it?
  6. Is there a way to create meaningful, well-paying local food and agriculture careers to combat employment barriers and poverty?

In trying to answer these questions, StarkFresh was created.

When we transitioned fully into StarkFresh, we started off deliberately small in order to find out what the community truly was in need of and which approaches would be the most effective.  We’ve been lucky to have been able to adapt and change our programming over time to increase our overall community impact.  As we’ve adapted our programming, our mission has continued to be better defined to reflect the manner in which we are creating truly meaningful impact.

To see some of our past programming, PAST PROJECTS

How do we currently create a meaningful impact throughout our community?  Glad you asked!  CAUSES

Our Journey

It hasn’t always been an easy road to where we are today, in fact, the road has been full of potholes, washouts and detours yet we’ve been able to stay on track and do what needs to be done, despite the forces against us along the way.

OUR JOURNEY

Map

Sometimes it seems unbelievable at how much coverage we are able to have with being such a small nonprofit.  Look on the map to see all of our locations throughout Stark County.

MAP

Past Projects

We’ve come a long way since 2012.  There have been hits and misses along the way but each program helped us get to where we are today.  Come along and learn what we did in the past that we are no longer doing today. PAST PROJECTS

Year-End Report

Click to download our latest year-end report

2017 REPORT

2018 REPORT