We here in Madison are blessed with an abundance of local food options. Thousands of us belong to community-supported-agriculture farms or shop at a co-op, while tens of thousands more attend one of the many farmers' markets around the city and in the area. With such an embarrassment of riches, we can easily forget that fresh local produce is not accessible to everyone.
The Empty Bowls dinner on Oct. 28 is an annual reminder that food insecurity remains a persistent fact of life for too many Dane County residents. Sponsored by the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, the event features hundreds of handmade bowls created by local artists, and a meal of soup and bread donated by local restaurants. While the meal is free, for a minimum $15 donation you can keep the bowl and support the Partner Shares Program, a local effort to make CSA shares affordable to low-income individuals and families.
"Partner Shares does more than just feed people who are hungry," says Jessica Lischka, event coordinator. "It provides a continuous supply of healthy, nutritious food to people who may not be able to afford it otherwise."
Partner Shares began in 1997 as a way to extend the reach of CSA programs to those who could not otherwise afford to participate. The program pays the full cost of a CSA share to a farm of the participant's choice. Participants then pay back half the cost to Partner Shares. Empty Bowls is the primary fund-raiser for the program.
"Every donation we receive at Empty Bowls goes directly to helping someone pay a lower price for their share," says Lischka.
This year, organizers hit a snag when they learned of the closing of Madison's Lakeside Pottery, which had donated bowls. The Partner Shares Program instead purchased bowls from Cambridge Wood-Fired Pottery. "We decided to go forward with the event given the overwhelming need and interest in the program, in hopes that we could get sponsors and support from the community," says Lischka.
And they certainly have. Physician's Plus has given major financial support to Empty Bowls, along with Community Pharmacy. Fourteen local restaurants, including Himal Chuli, L'Etoile, Sophia's and Lazy Jane's, have agreed to donate more than 100 gallons of soup for the event, and bread will be provided by Nature's Bakery, Madison Sourdough, Cress Spring Bakery and Sarah Lee Gardner Bakery.
The idea of Empty Bowls came in a Michigan high school art class. Searching for a way to raise funds for a food drive, students hit upon the idea of making ceramic bowls that could serve as a lasting reminder of both the event and of global hunger. Empty Bowls events are now held around the world. Madison has held one since 1997, and has raised more than $60,000 for groups working to reduce hunger.
Lischka is hopeful that the event will raise enough money for Partner Shares to help 75 families next year, 25 more than in 2006.
"There is so much enthusiasm for the Partner Shares Program that I really think this is a realistic goal," she says. "Empty Bowls will hopefully make it happen."
The Empty Bowls dinner is 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Madison Senior Center, 330 W. Mifflin St. For more information, visit www.macsac.org or call 226-0300.