ENFIELD, N.Y.—Food insecurity is an issue with particularly significant impacts in rural areas, including Tompkins County, which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To continue the discussion around a plight that affects many Tompkins County residents, the third installment of the Community Conversation Forum Series, which took place April 26, invited panelists to discuss food security changes in the county.

Panelists featured in the conversation were Monika Roth, retired from a 40-year job as the agriculture industry leader at Cornell Cooperative Extension; Jean Owens, who runs the Enfield Food Pantry; and Debbie Teeter, a local farmer and member of Enfield Community Council. The discussion was moderated by Enfield town supervisor Stephanie Redmond.

Redmond prompted the panelists to discuss the services and opportunities available in Enfield to help support food security. Owens said the Enfield Food Distribution helps 400–500 families per week and that the qualify of the food it serves has dramatically increased thanks to the help of Nourish New York, a group that redirects surplus agricultural products to assist those in need. The food bank also provides items like fresh produce and dairy products from local farmers.

Shoppers can visit the food bank once per week, either Sundays or Mondays, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and some items regardless of income can be picked up. Later in the discussion, Owens said that volunteers are always welcome and valued because distributing food requires much labor.

“The better health of our shoppers is reflected by what we’re able to procure,” Owens said. “When a shopper comes in to pick up food for their family, they really go through all of our food groups, so they can indeed get the foods that they need. (…) If they get nothing else for the week, they’re food secure, and the fact that they can get all that they need for their families for the week from here.”

The conversation also covered the importance of farmers markets and how they could benefit Enfield. Roth said that in smaller communities, markets give smaller farmers the chance to thrive. She spoke about her experience starting the farmers market in Groton, New York, where farmers could set up for free near the Groton Nursing Home—a built-in audience, she said, though it drew more than just those living in the home.

“Finding a farmer that isn’t already fully committed every day of the week is hard, but that being said, I mean, we always are finding new, small farmers that need a place to set up and sell,” Roth said. “The first thing I’d say is, ‘Get people together.’ It’s going to be the commitment of the people in your community to show up every week and make it happen.”

Community member Kathleen Pasetty, a member of the Enfield food bank, joined the conversation when Redmond opened it to the 13 attendees. Pasetty said the idea of a farmers market in Enfield would be beneficial and asked panelists about the feasibility of it happening.

Teeter said that because the Enfield Community Council purchased the Living Water Church to become the Enfield Community Center, she thinks the space and parking would allow for the market to happen. She said her only concern would be its visibility.

“We would definitely want it to be successful regardless of where it is,” Teeter said. “We’re not opposed to it. I will bring it up at the next meeting.”