St. Joseph’s Academy sophomore Katherine Winchester is taking the lead on a national 4-H Tech Club project to study food scarcity both locally and around the nation. The project, Where’s the Food?, is being funded by a grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation.
The 4-H Tech Club is open to middle and high school students across Louisiana. Its focus is STEM technology with a strong emphasis on Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. Global Geospatial Institute (GGI) has been the sponsor of the 4-H Tech Club on the state and national level for the past five years. GGI was founded by Fran Fetzer Harvey, a 1976 graduate of SJA, who serves as the director of the non-profit organization.
Winchester, along with classmates Izzy Gruner and Susanna Shields, have worked with the 4-H Tech Club since their middle school years. Each placed in the organization’s statewide ArcGIS Online Competition, earning $100 cash prizes as middle school students. Winchester joined the 4-H Tech Club last year, then joined the National 4-H GIS Leadership Team, which has adopted the Where’s the Food project this year. “I volunteered to create GIS tools and apps to help move the project forward,” Winchester said of her involvement. “Once we had some data, we wanted to get an outside opinion by interviewing local leaders to find out what kind of projects were working for certain communities.”
The first leader Winchester interviewed was Mayor Sharon Weston Broome. Winchester recently conducted a Zoom meeting with Mayor Broome to discuss her Healthy City Initiative plan. “We wanted to know what was working for our community to apply it to our project,” Winchester said. “She gave us lots of helpful information about her project and even opened our eyes a bit more to the far-reaching and long-standing effects of the potential success of this project. She reminded me that if we all started eating healthier, the quality of life of citizens would improve, longevity would improve and disease and diabetes rates would decrease. Life, overall, could greatly improve for many people in our community. She also told us about the value of partnerships in a project like this and how her several different partnerships work together. Our goal is to apply the information she gave us to our own project.”
Harvey said the focus of the work is to raise awareness of the food crisis in America. “We want to identify where there are food deserts and where there is food access,” she said. Among the objectives are building interactive maps of food security partners’ location within the community, state and nation; introducing the community to New Food Security tools; interviewing potential community partners; reviewing and evaluating accomplishments through better access to healthy food; and assessing communities throughout the nation’s Food Security Plans.
Winchester said the issue of food scarcity is among the most critical facing our community. “I don’t think it’s enough just to make healthy food more available,” she said. “Organizations like the Food Bank do a great service to the community, but if you want to make the community healthier, you have to work smarter, not harder. You can make healthy food more available, but if it isn’t affordable and culturally sustainable, people won’t eat it, and then you’ve done nothing. I believe that a GIS team is the best group to perform this kind of project, because data is widely available, and we are well-suited to use it to a benefit.”
Shields serves as the leader of the local Tech Club. She said her involvement is highly enjoyable. “I decided to dedicate my time to this group because technology, specifically geographic information system mapping, is the future, and the people in the club are wonderful,” she said. “Once I started, it kind of pulled me in. I created an Instagram to post pictures on and to help advertise our activities. The club has a great atmosphere.”
With the Walmart Foundation grant and additional Walmart funds, the 4-H Tech Club is hosting a Healthy Living Workshop on December 21 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Comite Acres along the Comite River. Gruner will take the lead on this project, which will earn her a spot on the National 4-H GIS Leadership Team. The workshop will feature a full day of activities for 4-H members from surrounding parishes. “We will be teaching participants how to create surveys using Survey123, making trail mix, educating participants on our Where’s the Food? project, doing yoga on the beach and mapping our Walk/Run/Bik/Hike project using Quick Capture app,” Gruner said. “I believe that this Healthy Living Workshop presents a fun opportunity to learn more about GIS in the 4-H club, all while safely meeting new people during this pandemic.”
Mindy Brodhead Averitt