With the 2017 legislative session in full swing, it was a busy day at the Colorado State Capitol when three participants from the Hunger Through My Lens project in Prowers County joined more than 80 advocates for “Hungry for Change: Day at the Capitol” in February.
Hosted by Hunger Free Colorado, the day is dedicated to raising awareness about the prevalence and impacts of hunger across Colorado. Attendees shared their stories and experiences with legislators to start a conversation and shift the perception of hunger and ensure every Coloradan has the fuel they need to thrive and reach their potential.
To help start the conversation, photographs from four Hunger Through My Lens sites were on display in the Capitol lobby. Hunger Through My Lens is an advocacy project facilitated by Hunger Free Colorado that is supported by local communities and aims to shed light on the reality of hunger across Colorado using photography. Attendees and legislators stopped by the exhibit throughout the morning to talk with participants about food access, food quality, obesity and the importance of community engagement to ensure local residents have access to healthy, affordable food.
Prowers County project participants – Elia, Tasha and Susan – traveled from Lamar to Denver to talk about their photographs and tell stories about how hunger has impacted their lives and their community out on the plains of Southeastern Colorado. “The concept is powerful; it left us with some incredibly powerful images on the harsh reality of the lives of those battling hunger in our community,” said Tasha. “The project, however, has also helped us in putting the power back in the hands of the people, helping them connect to food and other resources that are available in Prowers County,” she added.
Many attendees were able to have conversations with their elected officials, including the Prowers County participants, who invited their representative, Kimmi Lewis, to lunch. “It was such a great experience visiting the State Capitol and meeting so many people that are avid backers of Hunger Free Colorado,” said Susan. “Our lunch with Rep. Lewis was the icing on the cake for me. She truly sounded interested in what we are doing in Southeastern Colorado. This is very encouraging for the people in our area because sometimes they feel forgotten. I do believe Hunger Through My Lens was a great way to get us involved and to show others that there is a problem here in Prowers County with hunger.”
After sharing stories about farming and ranching with Rep. Lewis, Elia shared personal accounts about times in her life when she and her siblings went without food, and the impact that had on their young lives. “It is important to connect with our state leadership and local governments and develop partnerships and work together in working to solve the issue of hunger,” Tasha concluded.
Hunger Through My Lens is based on the photovoice model, a form of participatory action research that has been widely used in academic and other fields. Digital cameras serve as the main medium for participants to express themselves and put real stories to the statistics surrounding hunger, and each participant maintains the rights of their photographs.
The photovoice project initially launched in 2013 with a group of participants from the Denver Metro area. Since then, it has expanded to share perspectives from different regions of the state, including the San Luis Valley, the Roaring Fork Valley and now the Arkansas River Valley. The Prowers County project was done in partnership with resident volunteers, Emily Nieschberg, Susan Portner and the four participants to share perspectives from a rural, farming community on the Eastern Plains.