MARIES COUNTY — Finding fresh and affordable food is a struggle felt for many families across the state of Missouri. But in Maries County, food insecurity numbers are more staggering than the national statistics.
Feeding America released data this fall under its "Map the Meal Gap 2022" report. The report uses numbers from 2020 to assess food insecurity across the country. The food insecurity rate for Maries County is reported to be 14.2%. This means that around 1,250 people are in a position of not being able to reliably access affordable and nutritious food. That percentage is 2.4% higher than the national average.
Brenda Eickhorst calls herself a lifelong Vienna resident. In a town with just more than 500 people, she said this problem is top of mind for many community members.
“We have a deficit of good homegrown food for the people that can’t grow it,” Eickhorst said. “We have one grocery store. We have one little Dollar General, you know. We do the best we can.”
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported that statewide for fiscal year 2022, Missouri Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) gave 1,223,251 congregate meals to 44,957 people. Missouri AAAs gave out 4,092,445 non-Medicaid home-delivered meals to 42,117 people and 2,191,996 Medicaid home-delivered meals to 12,824 people.
Specifically to Maries County, DHSS said on average, 25 older adults are served a congregate meal daily and 40 Missourians in the area receive home-delivered meals through the Vienna Senior Center. The town has a food bank, too.
“You get government help but it’s normally not enough,” Eickhorst said.
So she came up with her own solution: a farmer's market located right off Highway 63 in Vienna.
"You know we do the best we can for everyone around us," Eickhorst said.
The farmer's market opened for first time this year in April and remained open through October, one Saturday each month. But it took until October for the farmer's market to actually have a produce stand. Eickhorst said she tried to get farmers into the market when it started first in the spring, but Eickhorst said it was difficult getting vendors to come to such a small town when supply was low.
"Think of the wet season and the dry season," Eickhorst said. "Some farmers are losing their entire corn crops, and you know that's what they use to feed their animals, not to mention put on their tables."
Community members in Maries County said they make their own makeshift solutions to make it through the winter. For Ken and Barbara Singleton, that revolves around farming in the spring and summer and canning in the fall.
"We have a lot of freezers," Barbara Singleton said. “I have canning from previous years that we live on through the winter.”
Eickhorst said the problem she faces now is that the farmer's market is shut down for the winter. She said people in the area rely on canning, couponing and carpooling to other towns to shop during the cold months.
For Cherri Hinz, the owner at Moreland's Catfish Patch and Steakhouse, she said she tries to make her restaurant a year-round option, but inflation and gas prices have made that difficult.
“The prices are just too high for the families and for me as a business," Hinz said.
She said she takes everything one day at a time, hoping to keep serving hot food even when the weather gets cold.
"I have tried really hard not to raise the prices," Hinz said. "I never know from one week to the next if beef is going to double or chicken is going to double."
Eickhorst said it's time for all of Missouri to recognize food insecurity, even if your county isn't seen as high risk.
“It doesn’t mean that it’s just in the Vienna area or just down my gravel road. It means the entirety of mid-Missouri," Eickhorst said.
For more information on how you can get help finding food in Maries County, click here.