Let’s Eat Out! 2015 Initiatives: Food Carts Tackling Food Access & Poverty in Madison
Despite Madison's reputation as a food destination and the many recent articles declaring Madison one of the best places to live in the country, food insecurity and food access remain persistent problems in our community. Over 16,000 children in Dane County are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to healthy, affordable food.
Building on the success and infrastructure of our weekly dinners in various Madison-area locations, Let's Eat Out! is gearing up to organize 64 neighborhood dinners this summer in areas of Madison with limited access to food and limited access to financial resources. We will lend an immediate hand in addressing food access and food insecurity in our community. We will provide subsidized meals from Let's Eat Out! food carts and distribute free fresh produce to community members. Food carts are in a unique position to tackle this issue since their restaurants are on wheels and can travel to areas with limited food access.
The communities we are targeting are: Meadowood, Allied Drive, and Park St. In order to maximize participation in these events we are partnering with local community and neighborhood groups to include fitness activities for children, art and music, and other educational components to create an event that is not to be missed! These events will foster an environment where community engagement is organic and place-making is a byproduct. Our current partners include: the City of Madison, Neighborhood Resource Teams from the communities we’re serving, the Literacy Network, Briarpatch Youth Services, MSCR, the Urban League, REAP Food Group, Sustain Dane, Dane County Pantry Brigade, the Humane Society, DreamBikes, Madison Eats, local artists, and more! By working together with these groups we can avoid duplicitous efforts and increase the number of people we are serving.
Our approach is not just a short-term solution to food insecurity - we are also working to address one of the root causes of food insecurity – underemployment and low wages. The Let’s Eat Out! Internship Initiative, in partnership with Briarpatch Youth Services, will target at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 18 from economically challenged communities in Madison and pair them with food cart owners to provide them with an internship and mentorship in entrepreneurship and food sevice. It is our goal to set the foundation for labor-market involvement and engagement for these youth and to smooth the transition through the educational system into the labor market or futher education. The internship will not only provide a steady summer job (at $9 per hour), it will also provide external correlated training and the potential for long term workforce and entrepreneurial development.
As the organizers of a coalition of over 25 small business owners, we are in a unique position to provide youth with an upclose look at the life of a small business owner and to train the next generation of entrepreneurs. Unlike other internship opportunities where interns often work at the bottom-rungs of the company, Let’s Eat Out! interns will be trained through day-to-day interactions with the owners of the businesses they’re working for and will receive one-on-one mentoring. The business owners will provide valuable guidance and insight on all aspects of small business management.
In addition to learning food safety, customer service, the logistics of food cart operations, teamwork and working with others, the interns will participate in a weekly lab designed to illuminate other aspects of small business ownership and other career options in the food industry. These lab days represent an innovative approach to career exploration by allowing students to be exposed to many different small business opportunities that may not be presented to them in their academic or homes lives within the short period of 8 weeks. It is unrealistic to expect that all of the interns will be interested in owning food carts or working on food carts after their program completion, but our labs are designed to spark interest in other food related careers that students may be interested in pursuing. Labs will include a seed-to-table day to learn about where food comes from and how to execute sustainable business practices, job-shadowing local produce distributors, learning about the Madison College Culinary Arts Program, Second Harvest operations, and many more food-related small businesses, to provide students with a well-rounded picture of food-related careers. The last lab will focus on resume-building, job hunting and interviewing skills to help interns secure future employment.
5 year program goal
Students from our internship program will have the opportunity to advance within the food cart industry or within Let's Eat Out! Former interns will play an integral role in the development of the internship program's future, and also can participate in planning their own community's dinners and programming for future years. By 2020 it is our goal to have program graduates start and manage Madison's FIRST Community-Owned Food Cart! These managers will train other community members, just the way they were trained. This program model is called "workforce incubation" and gives communities ownership over their development and training and offers them valuable workforce training and entrepreneurial experience. The food cart will be owned and managed within the community.