Posts tagged ‘Food bank’
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.
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.”
One in four children in North Carolina do not have enough food to eat. Now you can help address this crisis AND support local farmers at the same time, by participating in a new challenge by Farmer Foodshare, the innovative nonprofit dedicated to making fresh local food more accessible.
There are a couple of ways to help, by visiting the Farmer Foodshare station at one of the Farmer’s Markets listed below. As part of a brand-new initiative you can make a cash donation to support a local farm CSA share for a hungry family (you can even suggest which farm to use). As always, you also can make a cash donation to support a local food bank or hunger organization, or donate part of your farmer’s market purchase to be distributed by a local food organization. In any case, your donations will be augmented by food donations from farmers and then collected at market by local hunger relief agency partners.
“Just in our region of the state, 180,000 kids don’t have enough food,” said Jonathan Bloom, a station manager with Farmer Foodshare. “Even sadder, North Carolina’s hunger rate for children under 5 is the worst in the nation. And an even larger number of young people don’t get enough nutritious, fresh food. The Farmer Foodshare Challenge aims to change that.”
Food pantries are extremely important to the services network. But, sometimes more targeted help is needed. At-risk children and families may not be able to access food pantries due to scheduling challenges. Through the new CSA challenge, Farmer Foodshare will purchase as many local CSA shares as possible to get nutritious, local food to hungry kids and their families, providing another option for partner agencies to better serve their clients.
CSA’s range in price from $300 to $500 for several months of delicious fresh food. CSA’s help farmers because they allow a farmer to plan what to grow and to be assured of income in response to seeds and other upfront growing costs. Donors can provide all or part of a CSA, and can earmark a donation for a particular farm or agency.
Participating Farmer’s Markets
Carrboro Farmers’ Market (www.carrborofarmersmarket.com)
Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market (www.chapelhillfarmersmarket.com)
Chatham Mills Farmers’ Market in Pittsboro (www.chathammillsfarmersmarket.com)
Raleigh Downtown Farmers Market (www.RaleighEatLocal.com)
Durham Farmers Market (www.durhamfarmersmarket.com)
Eno River Farmers Market (www.enoriverfarmersmarket.com)
Fearrington Farmers’ Market (http://www.fearrington.com/village/farmersmarket.asp)
Hillsborough Farmers’ Market (www.hillsboroughfarmersmarket.com)
Southern Village Farmers Market (www.southernvillage.com/farmers-market)
Western Wake Farmers’ Market (www.westernwakefarmersmarket.org)
Many thanks to Farmer Foodshare founder Margaret Gifford and the volunteers and donors who help out every week.
Margaret Gifford thought that low-income families should have access to fresh locally grown food. So she started taking an empty box to the Carrboro Farmers’ Market to collect unsold produce to donate to local charities that feed the needy.
Now there are Farmer Foodshare stations at nine local farmers’ markets throughout the Triangle, where farmers and customers can donate food or cash to local soup kitchens and food pantries.
But that wasn’t enough for Margaret. She wanted to make the arrangement more financially sustainable for the farmers. So she launched Pennies on the Pound (POP) Market, where farmers are paid a 10-25% discount for food donated to local organizations.
That’s making sustainable food more economically sustainable for everyone in the food chain.
Learn more by reading Andrea Weigl’s excellent feature in the News & Observer.