Food researchers hungry for answers

Survey targets Shawano County eating habits
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Leader Photo by Scott Williams Beverly Gensler, center, of Homeland Farms, helps customer Robin Perez, of Keshena, right, select ears of corn from a roadside stand on Green Bay Street in Shawano.

Leader Photo by Scott Williams Mary Beyer of Wildwood Farms waits for customers at her roadside fruits and vegetables stand on Green Bay Street in Shawano.

Consumer shopping and eating habits in Shawano County are coming under the microscope in a new survey that could help bring healthy food choices closer to home.

The coalition behind a privately funded research project is asking residents countywide to take part in the survey about how they feed themselves and their families.

Civic leaders could employ the survey results later to implement changes aimed at making healthy food more readily available throughout the county, including on Native American reservations.

“I think there’s going to be some things come out of this,” researcher Dan Robinson said.

The survey, which is open to every household in the county, will be available online and at certain public events until late September, perhaps longer.

The questions explore such topics as where residents shop for groceries, how they make their food selections, how often their families have healthy food, and whether their families sometimes must go hungry.

The research project is being funded by a $130,000 grant from the American Planning Association, a nonprofit educational group that awarded 17 such grants nationwide last year. The grants, in a program called Plan4Health, are aimed at combating chronic disease by promoting nutritional eating or physical exercise.

The coalition overseeing the research project locally includes Shawano County, Menominee County, the University of Wisconsin-Extension office, and the Native American tribes Ho-Chunk Nation, Stockbridge-Munsee Community and Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.

Sera Azzolina, community health representative for the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, said she hopes the research effort will point the way to better food sources for tribal members.

Azzolina said she has helped to start a regular farmers market on the reservation, but many tribal members, she said, also shop for food at stores with poor selections of healthy food.

“There’s really nothing,” she said.

Researchers have named their effort The FRESH Project, which stands for Food Resources Education Security Health. Since the grant was announced in November, coalition members have organized their group, examined the issues and planned the survey.

Along with fellow researcher Casey Mitchell, Robinson is working in the Shawano County Planning and Development Department in the county courthouse.

The coalition is particularly concerned that portions of Shawano County and Menominee County are “food deserts,” which is a geographic region where poverty runs high and where people must travel long distances to reach a full-service grocery store with healthy food.

By December, researchers hope to have the survey results compiled along with a plan of action for addressing community needs.

Implementing any needed changes, Robinson said, could become the responsibility of the existing coalition or it could end up in the hands of other organizations in the community. For now, efforts are focused on collecting meaningful data by encouraging widespread participation in the survey among a cross-section of demographic groups.

“We really want to go about this in an intelligent way,” Robinson said. “This is a real important need in the community.”

FYI

The survey is available online at https://uwex.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8nZ7ZrVLf6zBLKd. To obtain a paper copy or ask questions, call 715-524-2321.