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Grant helps Wyoming pantries source food locally

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(Wyoming News Service) As summer begins, Food Bank of Wyoming patrons will start seeing more local food options, thanks to a new grant.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state this year awarded the Food Bank of Wyoming a Local Food Purchasing Agreement Grant for the first time. The $500,000 grant helps the organization buy food from local producers and distribute it across the state via 150 brick-and-mortar pantries, 19 mobile pantries and backpack programs that provide simple meals for kids.

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Odessa Oldham, food sourcing manager for the Food Bank of Wyoming, said she will purchase local corn, oats, pancake mix, flour, wheat berries and, of course, beef.

"We've been able to increase our beef by a little over 12,000 pounds and we're just beginning," Oldham noted. "I'm hoping to buy a heck of a lot more beef."

Oldham emphasized she hopes to source more local fruits and vegetables too, but those make up only a small amount of Wyoming-grown produce. The Food Bank of Wyoming has seen increased need since the pandemic. It served nearly 45,000 patrons last year, a 9 percent increase from 2022.

Before she started sourcing locally for the food bank in 2022, Oldham explained most of its food came from Denver. Oldham, a rancher herself, hopes the grant will connect local producers with buyers to build a network that will outlive the grant's timeline.

"It's an opportunity to not just sell your product to the food bank, but to open up to another market -- a larger market -- of other individuals in the state that are looking to purchase locally," Oldham added.

Grant monies are available through July of next year, when Oldham stressed she plans to apply for another round.