F2FP at Providence NEW Hunger Coalition
The Hunger Coalition, “Serves as a collaborative forum for all the individuals and groups working to meet the hunger relief demands of Stevens County.” There are 13 food pantries under the Hunger Coalition, and the Farm to Food Pantry grant was awarded to the Coalville Food bank. Stevens County food pantries distributed 1.8 million pounds of food and served 30,270 households.
F2FP Grant: $4,000
Community Matching Grants: $2,300
Winniford Family Farm is located in Rice, and specializes in producing hard-neck garlic and heritage-breed pasture-raised pork. Winniford was paid $2,000 for 1,529 pounds of produce, which included green beans, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, kale, chard, lettuce, melons, summer squash, potatoes, peppers, and radishes.
Front Porch Farm is a family owned and operated farm that specializes in produce, grass-fed beef, and quality hay. Front Porch was paid $1,000 for 1,513 pounds of produce, which included cucumbers, potatoes onions, and summer squash. They donated 1,488 pounds of produce and 3,702 pounds of onions were gleaned after the purchasing contract ended.
Simple Gift Farm is a certified organic family owned and operated farm. Simple Gifts was paid $1,000 for 800 pounds of produce, which included Apples, green beans, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chard, collard greens, cucumber, garlic, kale, leek, lettuce, onions, pears, summer squash, winter squash. They donated 13 pounds of produce after the purchasing contract was completed.
Meadowlark Farm is a 5-acre certified organic farm located in Rice. Meadowlark Farm was paid $900 for 712 pounds of produce, which included beets, cabbage, chard, kale, cucumbers, kohlrabi, green onions, tomatoes, turnips, and summer squash. They donated 16 pounds of produce after the purchasing contract was completed.
Colville Corn Maze has large fields of pumpkins and a large intricately designed corn maze each year. They were paid $600 for 800 pounds of sweet corn. They donated 13 pounds of produce after the purchasing contract was completed.
Sweet Meadows Ranch is a family-run operation located on 80 acres just outside Chewelah. The farm was paid $500 for 354 pounds of produce, which included blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, cucumbers, eggplant, kale, lettuce, onions, potatoes, plums, radishes, summer squash, and winter squash. They donated 36 pounds of produce after the purchasing contract was completed.
Q&A with Matt Morse, Harvest VISTA
Q. What were the goals of the purchasing program?
A. 1) Strengthen ties between food pantries and growers;
2) Develop a scalable platform for growing the program;
3) Bring more fresh fruit and vegetables to food pantry clients, especially nutrient-dense dark green vegetables;
4) Provide more variety of produce;
5) Strengthen local producers by providing early-season funding that can be put towards capital improvement projects (e.g. fencing, refrigeration, etc.); and,
6) Reduce food waste.
Q. Was the community- matching fund helpful in creating a sustainable relationship?
A. The matching funds are an excellent idea for the sustainability of the program and at this site may attract the interest of an additional funding organization for the coming season.
Q. What was the response of farmers when reaching out about the purchasing program?
A. It was difficult initially since most growers in this area have no set model for wholesale pricing. Growers initially wanted something they could actually take and look over rather than trying to negotiate wholesale values for specific items. Once a set price sheet was developed, things became far easier and growers were able to take on larger contracts than they would have if given only a set amount and type of produce to supply.
Nevertheless, many of the orchardists were unwilling to set up contracts in the early summer and would have preferred to make a sale once they had a bumper crop of fruit rather than before. Another issue is that the population of orchard growers in this area seems to be on a trend toward downsizing and retirement.
Q. How did you chose produce types and determine the prices with your farmers?
A. The contracts with Front Porch, Simple Gifts, and Colville Corn Maze were all arranged before my term began, but I can still see the logic behind them. Front Porch established their own prices based on wholesale marketing to local stores. The produce they provided was all relatively easy to harvest and prone to overproduction. In every instance, it was either seconds or something they didn’t have a market for. They simply offered items to contract that they knew would be produced in excess.
Simple Gifts also set their prices and offered lower prices on green beans to be harvested by volunteers. The items offered basically covered everything that the farm provided to its regular customers. Ultimately, gleaning was not cost-effective because the production rate was too slow and the farm too far from population centers.
Colville Corn Maze only produces sweet corn and decorative pumpkins. They also set their own price.
Sweet Meadows, Meadowlark, and the Winnifords all provided a wide variety of produce and the prices were determined by me with input from these growers and terminal organic wholesale market values from Seattle organized by the Rodale Institute. These growers were also given suggestions on what produce was most needed by food pantries.
Q. How did you purchase the produce?
A. Money was paid up front to all contracted growers. The produce was delivered to food pantries on a season-long basis as excess became available.
Q. What feedback have you gotten from the growers about the purchasing program?
A. By and large, local growers are quite satisfied with the program but they would like for the contracts to be set up earlier in the year so they can plan for the season. It would also work better if a portion of the funds were set aside in case a bumper crop is available.
Q. Do you have any other suggestions for improvement going forth or general comments?
A. First and foremost, funds need to be available at the beginning of the year. This would increase the value to growers and, in turn, command better prices which would lead to more produce received. Growers would also be better able to put these funds towards improvements such as fencing, soil amendments, better equipment, etc. that could produce higher yields and, very likely, more donated produce.
It would also be advantageous to leave a certain amount of funding (e.g. one-third) out of the early contracts to be put towards purchasing items that food pantries are short on through the season or for crops that have been overproduced and can be acquired at a lower price as a result. If not used, these funds could be allowed to roll over into the next season.
Q. What was the greatest success from the purchasing project?
A. Being reimbursed makes it easier for growers to donate their excess produce to food pantries. This season that meant over 11,000 pounds of extra produce went to those who need it.
Q. What was the biggest surprise (or potential area of improvement) about partnering with growers for the purchasing project?
A. Having not spent much time in food pantries previously, it was disconcerting to see the low quality of much of the food that is donated. Unfortunately, this goes for home garden vegetables as well. There was a drastic difference in the quality of produce supplied and donated by commercial growers versus that of gardeners. Still, it was not always easy to get food pantry clients excited about more exotic farmers market produce–no matter how good the quality–because it was not something they would normally use or be able to afford.
Q. Are there interests in expanding the purchasing program to other farms and/or markets?
A. Given that there are a good deal more farms in Northeast Washington than were contracted with by this program, yes. Current growers are also interested in receiving larger contracts to provide more produce in the coming season.
Q. Were the goals of the purchasing program achieved? Why/why not?
A. 1) Food pantry managers and volunteers certainly appreciated the higher level of quality that they received from local growers. Much of what is donated by home gardeners is of poor condition. Most often it is something that the gardeners wouldn’t want to eat themselves because it is overripe. Commercial growers are accustomed to marketing produce to please the public and their donated fruits and vegetables reflect this.
From the growers’ perspective, the program gave them an opportunity to learn about what produce is typically available at a food pantry and how they can help. In many cases, they were prompted to deliver produce to food pantries and speak with managers and volunteers.
2) Efforts toward building a scalable platform for the program are ongoing, but some achievements include developing a set pricing model, collaborating with other organizations to plan a regional produce distribution network, and pursuing funding for a dedicated storage unit for gleaned and purchased produce.
3) Given the lateness of fund dispensation, it proved difficult to influence the planting strategies of participating growers. The ensuing practice of only purchasing surplus produce, while theoretically more cost-effective, made for a limited and unpredictable model.
4) In the cases where growers were offered flexible contracts, a far greater variety of produce was delivered. Obviously, it is inherently easier to fulfill a contract when you are not locked into one or two crop quotas whose performance depends on a variety of factors. Ultimately, it was easier for growers to deliver produce that they had in in surplus under this model.
5) Despite the funds being released later than would have been preferable,
Simple Gifts Farm was able to put the money received from their contract towards establishing walk-in refrigeration for storing produce on their property.
Winniford Family Farm had planned to use the money towards the purchase of a larger delivery vehicle before their operation ran into issues with water rights and had to downsize. Had the money been available earlier in the year, Sweet Meadows Ranch would have put the funds towards fencing to expand the number acres they have in vegetable production.
6) The success of the sixth goal is somewhat more complicated and harder to appreciably measure. For instance, Front Porch Farm, Sweet Meadows Ranch, and Winniford Family Farm all had an established practice of feeding excess produce to livestock. Simple Gifts Farm and Meadowlark Farm both donated to food pantries before the purchasing program but they also composted and used the product as a soil amendment. In the case of Colville Corn Maze, the owner is also engaged with a local gleaning group that takes whatever is left after he has harvested the main crop. Ultimately, though, more fresh produce is making its way to food pantry clients because this program helps to facilitate donations from growers who are otherwise limited by time and resources.
Bonus: Conversation with Nils Johnson at WSU Extension Stevens County, Agriculture Program Coordinator
Nils Johnson is the Washington State Extension Agriculture Coordinator for Stevens County. He collaborated with Matt Morse of the Colville Food Bank to expand healthy food access to pantries along the US 395 highway, the North Spokane Corridor. The plan involves adding a number of facilities and programs, namely a food processing facility, a farmer training and incubator program, and a food storage facility.
Produce that is bought from local farms through the purchasing program will be able to be moved efficiently along this corridor to supply the people in need. Through this process there are a number of key relationships, which must be maintained in order for the system to work; first and foremost there is the farmer, then the, food pantries, volunteers, and other donors. Nils’ plan is still in the early stages, but is an incredible example of the impact that the Farm to Food Pantry Purchasing Program stands to make.