Posts filed under ‘food access’
By Dee Reid
North Carolina’s Triangle area has cultivated a foodie paradise of sustainable farms, growers’ markets and seasonal cuisine. But there’s a gap in the local food chain: Low-income households often lack fresh, healthy produce. And nearly one in five residents statewide sometimes go hungry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
UNC College alumna Gini Bell is helping to narrow the nutrition gap by forging new links from farm to food bank. As executive director of Farmer Foodshare, a Durham-based nonprofit, she oversees a network of community partnerships “connecting people who grow food with people who need food.”
Farmer Foodshare buys produce from local farmers and delivers it to food organizations that provide groceries and meals to those in need.
Bell’s interest in fresh local food sprouted when she was an undergraduate. She read up on environmental and health concerns associated with commodity farming and junk-food diets. She explored alternatives, including the student-run community vegetable garden on campus.
After graduating from UNC, she took courses on sustainable farming and food justice at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro. She worked with two local food-shed pioneers: farmer Ken Dawson, who co-founded Maple Spring Gardens in 1972, and Lex Alexander, who in 1981 co-founded Durham’s Wellspring Grocery, now part of the Whole Foods Market chain.
“I learned a lot about fresh local food, including who has access to it and who doesn’t,” Bell said. “I began thinking more about how food moves from where it grows to where it is consumed.”
The critical thinking skills Bell honed at Carolina kept her digging for solutions. She found bold initiatives sprouting at Farmer Foodshare. The nonprofit was established in 2009 by Margaret Gifford, a shopper at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market who began gathering surplus food from growers and donating it to local food banks. Soon Gifford realized she could collect contributions from other shoppers to pay the farmers for their food. That effort evolved into the unique model that now partners with a network of local farms and food agencies across the region to take a whole-systems approach to food access.
Bell started working for Farmer Foodshare in January 2013 and became executive director a year and a half later.
In 2015, Farmer Foodshare spent over $182,000 on local food purchases and donated 60,000 pounds of fresh produce from more than 300 farms, supplementing more than 600,000 meals for some 20,000 hungry adults and children.
“It’s a joy to find innovative ways to address big issues by tapping into the strengths of so many smart people working together across our community,” she said.
Bell collaborates with four staffers, including two other UNC alumnae: Katy Phillips and Karla Capacetti. With the help of Carolina student interns and dozens of volunteers, they provide a series of programs, including:
Donation Stations: Volunteers collect cash contributions at farmers markets and use the funds to purchase food from the growers. Last year, donation stations at 31 farmers markets provided food to about three dozen community programs.
POP (Pennies on the Pound) Market: To respond to increasing demand, Farmer Foodshare created a centralized hub to buy fresh food in bulk. Each week, farmers list what they have available, and about 36 food relief organizations place orders. A Farmer Foodshare van transports the produce from the farms to the warehouse for filling orders.
Food Ambassadors: Farmer Foodshare volunteers give cooking demonstrations at markets, food agencies and other locations to show consumers how to prepare produce in new ways or cook with unfamiliar vegetables.
–Reprinted from Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine, published by UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences.
The state of the union food-wise is not good, says our favorite New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman. No kidding. That’s why it’s long past time for a National Food Policy.
After all, 15% of Americans (that’s 46.5 million people) are subsisting on SNAP benefits (food stamps). And you can bet that most of them are not getting enough fresh, healthy food with their food stamps, and that many suffer from, or are at fisk of, costly diseases that can be caused by poor nutrition: obesity, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
Come to think of it, Bittman says, many of our domestic challenges are connected one way or the other with food.
“You can’t address climate change without fixing agriculture,” he says. “You can’t fix health without improving diet, you can’t improve diet without addressing income, and so on. The production, marketing and consumption of food is key to nearly everything. (It’s one of the keys to war, too, because large-scale agriculture is dependent on control of global land, oil, minerals and water.)”
Here are Bittman’s top policy recommendations:
- Get antibiotics out of our food supply.
- Tie reducing greenhouse gas emissions to reining in the industrial production of animals for meat.
- Support strong front-of-package food labeling.
- Defend the menu labeling mandated under the Affordable Care Act.
We like his list and have a few more suggestions:
- Increase financial support for farmers, businesses and organizations that produce and distribute fresh, healthy, local food.
- Decrease subsidies and incentives to farmers, businesses and organizations that produce, advertise, and distribute unhealthy food, especially to children.
- Increase the minimum wage of food workers for farms, food processing plants, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.
It’s a start. To read the rest of Bittman’s thoughtful comments on national food policy, click here. Feel free to share your recommendations.
By Dee Reid
For most foodies the Triangle is a locavore paradise teeming with family farms, fresh markets and seasonal cuisine. But despite this cornucopia, more than 16 percent of our regional neighbors (276,000 adults and children) are considered “food insecure.” Struggling to make ends meet, they know what it means to be hungry. Many rely on cheap processed food that is high in fat and sodium. And that increases their risk for Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity and other costly ailments related to poor diets.
Farmer Foodshare is breaking new ground to tackle this paradox of hunger in a land of plenty. The Durham-based nonprofit has established a centralized food hub called the POP (Pennies on the Pound) Market. Its staff and volunteers purchase fresh food wholesale from local farms, then sort and deliver it at affordable :prices to an impressive web of local organizations that feed some 24,000 hungry people annually.
The idea is to strengthen local farms and local communities by providing new outlets for farmers and a convenient source of fresh healthy food for people who need it.
“Our goal is to keep it affordable for the food agencies, while ensuring that the farmers are getting a good price,” said POP Market manager Karla Capacetti.
That’s a tall order, which requires balancing tight schedules and budgets to meet the needs of a complex network of partners. The POP Market taps about 43 small-to-mid-size farms across 17 counties, and 25 local food banks, senior centers, preschools and other agencies feeding Alamance, Chatham, Durham and Orange counties.
The POP Market provides the efficiency, agility and “glue” needed to acquire and transport fresh food expeditiously to a diverse array of customers. Twice a week, Karla e-mails, texts and calls the farmers to find out what they have available. Then she e-mails a list to the food agencies, which have 24 hours to complete their orders. She assembles purchase orders and invoices, then e-mails them to two drivers, and gets them on the road to quickly pick up the bulk food from the farms, transport it to Farmer Foodshare to be sorted for customized orders, and re-load it into the van for direct delivery to the food agencies.
Together, the POP Market and its partner farms and agencies are now providing fresh local food to at least 500 people every week, year-round.
“It’s great to have all of this fresh food going to hungry people,” said Karla.
Since its formation in 2012, the POP Market has spent more than $150,000 with local farmers, and delivered 110,000 pounds of healthy food to local organizations. The program’s reach is growing rapidly. Since the beginning of this year alone it has purchased $83,000 from local farmers and delivered 60,000 pounds of food to local communities.
I recently rode in the Farmer Foodshare van as it traveled across the Triangle to fulfill the message emblazoned on its door panels, “bringing food from local growers to local eaters.”
Jerry Levit, a volunteer and retired farmer and realtor, was delivering farm goods to seven agencies spanning three counties. By 9 am he had picked up produce from Farmer Foodshare and delivered the customized orders to Child Care Services and Chapel Hill Daycare. I caught up with him at Evergreen United Methodist Church in north Chatham, which houses the Take and Eat Food Pantry. The pantry, supported by six local churches, provides groceries for 30-40 families per week.
Pantry manager Michelle Morehouse especially likes supplementing the non-perishables with fresh local food. “My goal was to improve the nutritional content of the food we give out,” she said. “Now we can order healthy produce based on our clients’ preferences.”
The families that come to the pantry also enjoy having fresh produce, even unfamiliar items. “Many clients have never tried some of these vegetables before,” Michelle said. “They discover they like them and they let us know that.”
Jerry went on to deliver more fresh food to four other partner organizations that day, including Sonder Market, a new student-run produce stand at UNC; the Inter-Faith Council Food Pantry in Carrboro; nearby Club Nova, providing mental health support programs; and Child Care Services in Durham.
Jerry likes supporting farmers and helping them expand their reach to needy customers. “We’re committed to strengthening sustainable agriculture and feeding the people,” he said.
The following day I rode with Ryan Cribbins, a part-time POP Market employee who has retired from a long career at RTI International. We drove to the State Farmers’ Market where we picked up fresh produce from three growers: Cox Farms in Goldsboro, Wise Farms in Mt. Olive and Jones Farm in Snow Hill. Then we drove to Lyon Farms in Creedmoor. In just three hours, Ryan had filled the van to capacity with about $1,200 worth of squash, sweet potatoes, strawberries and grapes.
The farmers were pleased. Robbie Cox drove a front loader with more than $500 worth of produce over to the Farmer Foodshare van, including a dozen boxes of cucumbers, five bushels of yellow onions, two bushels of red bell peppers and a big box of broccoli.
“This system works well for us,” said Robbie, who has been farming all of his life. “We can provide quantity and top-of-the-line produce. And every bit of what we can sell helps our bottom line.”
Back at Farmer Foodshare’s warehouse, Ryan unloaded the van, then labeled boxes for next-day delivery to four partner organizations: Veggie Van, a local mobile market; TABLE, feeding school children; Panda Packs, providing week-end food for hungry students at Pittsboro Primary School; and the Interfaith Council Food Pantry in Carrboro.
“I love what we’re doing,” said Ryan. “It’s a really good organization and I like contributing to something worthwhile. I’m also learning a lot about our farm system and the food agencies that serve our communities.”
An urban farm and community garden has sprouted at 500 Hoke Street in southeast Raleigh. Though it’s only two miles from the capital’s trendy eateries, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle farm is at the heart of a “food desert.”
Most of its neighbors can’t afford to dine upscale downtown. And there’s no supermarkets nearby where they can find healthy groceries for their families. Urban food deserts typically rely on fast-food joints and convenience stores, where calories are cheap but not necessarily nutritious. That’s a recipe for the growing incidence of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other costly ailments related to poor diets.
Hoke Street turned out to be an ideal location for the urban farm and training center for Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, the anti-hunger nonprofit serving Raleigh and seven surrounding counties for the last 25 years. The new three-acre site now includes community garden beds for residents wishing to grow their own produce, and an urban farm and training center for interns learning to cultivate and sell healthy food.
“We set up this space so people could see how food is grown, and grow it themselves” said Katie Murray, who coordinates IFFS urban agriculture training programs. We visited during the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s annual farm tour.
Half a dozen families are growing vegetables in the new IFFS community garden. And there’s an open raised bed for curious neighbors who want to taste what’s sprouting — red leaf lettuce when we visited. IFFS also has cultivated a partnership with Will Allen, the now-famous MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellow behind Growing Power, the organization teaching young people around the country about innovative sustainable practices for urban farming enterprises. IFFS has four interns through the program, working at the Raleigh farm and learning about composting, vermiculture, aquaponics, hoop houses, mushrooms, micro-greens and more.
“The goal is to grow food here and sell it through local farmers’ markets and to restaurants,” Murray said. The interns are gaining experience to develop their own small enterprises through a collaborative local alliance.
The farm is adjacent to a 14,000 square-foot warehouse, where IFFS stores local food gleaned from farms and delivers it to neighborhoods through its mobile market program. The IFFS warehouse also serves as a community grocery store during a monthly market on fourth Fridays.
Inter-Faith Food Shuttle also has a Teaching Farm on Tryon Road, with incubator plots for those ready to start their own farming enterprises.
Have you always wanted to learn more about the foods and herbs that grow wild in the woods? Now it looks like you can, while shopping for them at what is being billed as one of the first wild food markets in the country.
Beginning March 10, the Wild Food + Herb Market will run one Sunday afternoon (1 to 4) each month on the Carrboro Commons from March through November, thanks to support from our friends at The Abundance Foundation in Pittsboro.
The Wild Food + Herb Market coming to Carrboro will be a foragers market featuring foragers, herbalists, wild food cultivators and local plant educators in the North Carolina Piedmont. The market will provide wild food and medicinal herb enthusiasts a place to buy, sell, trade and gather with others interested in wild foods and herbs.
Vendors will provide unusual wild foods for adventurous foodies, while educational organizations will be on hand to offer information on wild foods and resources on how to learn more about wild food identification.
What a great opportunity to learn more about wild plants of the Piedmont and their uses, how to identify and harvest wild foods, herbs, medicinal plants and mushroom.
Co-Founders Josh Lev, community herbalist and founder of the Carrboro Herb Guild, and Jenny Schnaak, development director and youth program manager for The Abundance Foundation, have been wanting for some time to create a space for herbalists and foragers to meet and sell goods. After word that Alan Muskat, well-known foraging expert, was launching a wild foods market this spring in West Asheville, they decided to build on that excitement and carry the momentum to the Piedmont.
There is a conservation ethic behind the idea of gathering and using local wild plants. “Knowledge of the incredible resources that local plants offer both in terms of food and medicine serves to help people feel more connected to the land and other living things in their communities,” says Lev. “We protect and care for what we value and feel connected to. We want the Wild Food + Herb Market to be not only a marketplace, but also place where people with similar interests can gather and learn from each other.”
To learn more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
School children from after school programs in Chapel Hill and Carrboro are taking home more than spelling lists and math sheets this fall. Carrboro-based nonprofit TABLE is sending them home with “healthy homework” – snack recipes and fresh food sourced from local farms through Farmer Foodshare.
It’s a way to connect local farms with families who don’t have access to healthy food.
“In North Carolina, two thirds of all adults are overweight or obese. North Carolina ranks fifth worst in the country for childhood obesity and first in the country for childhood food insecurity for children under five years of age,” said Molly De Marco, a researcher with UNC’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. “Combating hunger and obesity takes involvement from the entire family. This unique program encourages healthy eating year round, strengthens the local food system and provides families with a fun way to improve their health.”
This month, volunteers from TABLE brought fresh ingredients from local farms to the center and showed the kids how to make Striped Rollups with green peppers, arugula, cheese and tortillas. After watching the demonstration, the children made Striped Rollups themselves, and then took home the ingredients and “know-how” needed to prepare the snack for their families.
“I can’t wait to show this snack to my mom,” said one of the fourth graders at The Hargraves Center afterschool program. “She loves peppers!” The snack program, TABLE for Two, sends trained UNC-Chapel Hill students to low-income after-school programs in Orange County. TABLE focuses exclusively on local childhood hunger, distributing healthy food to Chapel Hill-Carrboro children each week, as well as providing UNC student mentors to encourage kids to make healthy eating choices.
“We hope these special snack sessions will grow kids’ familiarity with fresh produce and teach them what is available right in their own area,” said Joy MacVane, TABLE’s executive director. “TABLE helps children grow and thrive. This after school snack program empowers kids to teach their families to make healthy food choices.”
Kids Lead the Way
The fresh snack training program is based on an embedded learning model in which students watch something, do it on their own, and then teach another what they learned. In TABLE for Two, children watch their mentors make snacks from locally grown produce and then prepare the snack on their own. After the program, children are sent home with fresh ingredients from local farms to make and share the snack with their families.
“It’s so much fun watching the kids get excited about fresh and healthy food,” said Ashton Chatham, Program Director at TABLE. “You always hear that kids don’t like fresh vegetables. We sure don’t see that here! They really get into the snacks and they love the fresh food we give them each week.”
The Farmer Foodshare connection
TABLE receives fresh produce from local North Carolina farmers through a partnership with nonprofit Farmer Foodshare. The organization links farm-grown food to growing children through its Farm to Children program. Farmers from Carrboro Farmers Market provide TABLE with weekly donations of gleaned fresh produce as well as discounted produce specifically for snacks.
“We are delighted to support this innovative program,” said Margaret Gifford, Founder and Executive Director of Farmer Foodshare. “TABLE understands how children learn about food and they know the power that healthy food can have in transforming children’s lives.”
“Healthy Homework” is part of the Table for Two Healthy Eating Program, one of several hunger relief programs sponsored by TABLE.
TABLE is a non-profit hunger-relief organization focusing exclusively on local childhood hunger. Each week, TABLE puts healthy food, including farm fresh produce, directly into the hands of Chapel Hill and Carrboro elementary school-age children who would otherwise go hungry on weekends and other times of the year when free school meals are unavailable. It brings together UNC students and community members to provide food to local hungry kids and raise awareness of local childhood hunger. During the 2011/2012 school year, TABLE sent home more than 45,000 pounds of food to hungry Chapel Hill-Carrboro children. Please visit www.tablenc.org or email email@example.com for more information.
Starting October 4, Carolina students, faculty and staff can order a weekly bag of locally grown food, pick it up on campus AND support good causes all over the globe. Sprout, a campus CSA (community supported agriculture) project, was developed by Nourish UNC, a student movement for sustainable development and member of the Campus Y.
Sprout partners with Coon Rock Farm, a local, sustainable enterprise, to provide fresh, seasonal produce for the campus CSA. The venture supports the local economy and food system while making healthy food accessible to the campus community. All proceeds from Sprout go to grassroots community development projects around the world.
Sprout members receive a canvas bag of produce each week for eight weeks, starting Oct. 4. The bags will be available for pick up at the Campus Y. Customers will receive a variety of produce each week, depending on the harvest calendar. For the fall, a wide variety of vegetables and greens includes eggplant, okra, zucchini, sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers, baby turnips, salad greens (arugula, mesclun, etc.) and cooking greens (bok choy, kale, etc.). Additionally, this semester Sprout will take pre-orders of Coon Rock eggs, meat products (pasture-raised chicken, pork roast, bacon, sausage, steak) and honey.
A season of Sprout produce deliveries costs $80 ($10 per week). A suite bundle that is twice the single order alongside a side order of produce not in the regular bundle costs $224.