F2FP at Upper Valley MEND
Community Cupboard is a program of Upper Valley MEND, which was formed as a food pantry by area churches in 1983. The program includes a food pantry, thrift store and emergency family assistance. Community Cupboard is one of twelve food pantries operated by the Chelan-Douglas Community Action Council. In Chelan county, roughly 829,000 pounds of food was distributed through food pantries serving 51,068 households from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.
F2FP Grant: $2,000
Community Matching Grants: $2,458
Tierra Garden Organics is a certified organic family farm in Leavenworth. The farm grows mixed vegetables on approximately four acres in addition to 15-acres of grain. They were paid $1,900 for 1,317 pounds of produce, which included carrots, spinach, peppers, beans, squash, potatoes, onion, and tomatillos. They donated 293 pounds of produce and 50 additional pounds were gleaned after the purchasing contract was completed.
Hope Mountain Farm is a three-acre family farm in Leavenworth that grows a variety of vegetables and berries. The farm was paid $1,458 for 951 pounds of produce, which included beans, cabbage, greens, and winter squash. They also donated 63 pounds after the purchase contract was completed.
Oh Yeah! Farms is a five-acre farm in Leavenworth that grows a variety of vegetables. The farm was paid $1,100 for 926 pounds of winter squash and potatoes. They also donated 293 pound of produce after the purchase contract was completed.
Q&A With Beth Macinko
Q. What were the goals of the purchasing program?
A. The goals were to purchase produce varieties that we don’t usually have donated/glean and to have a consistent supply for the monthly food boxes distributed by the Community Cupboard Food Bank in Leavenworth. We aimed to have at minimum of two fresh food items in each food box from July to September.
Q. Was the community- matching fund helpful in creating a sustainable relationship?
A. Yes, our community-matching fund was in the form of Veggie Vouchers. Donations from community members and fundraising events go into a special account and then we print vouchers worth $2 each that are then distributed to food bank families. The quantity of vouchers distributed depends on family size. Vouchers are used like cash at the local farmers market for any fruits or vegetables. It’s like the State WIC voucher and Senior Farmers Market voucher programs, but just for our local food pantry clients and at our farmers market.
While the purchased produce allows us to put local produce in every box, the Veggie Vouchers give clients the opportunity to select the crops they prefer, and builds relationships between the clients and the farmers. Farmers have positive feedback about the Veggie Voucher program and would like to see it grow in the future with more funds allocated. Veggie Vouchers are redeemable at any farm, not just the ones from which we purchased. This year $5,000 worth of vouchers were printed and $2,400 were spent at farms from which we purchased. Many of the farmers in our area have a vision for good food being accessible for all, so they are happy to partner with us on projects like the purchasing.
Q. What was the response of farmers when reaching out about the purchasing program?
A. Most farmers we approached were happy to work with us. Since we reached out in May, they had already done their planning and initial plantings so having us order from their wholesale price sheets, rather than grow something specifically for us, was best for them. We approached four local farms and ended up working with three. Two farms were very engaged with the purchasing project and the third farm sells primarily to the West Side, but were good to work with as long as I kept in touch with them.
Q. How did you chose produce types and determine the prices with your farmers?
A. At the beginning of the season two farms gave us their expected crop availability timelines which helped us get a sense of what would be available throughout the summer and make a loose plan of what crops we could afford to buy in what quantities. We wanted to buy crops that we don’t typically have donated, and crops that are pretty universally popular. We also knew we wanted to save some funds to use at the end of the season for winter crops. We received the weekly wholesale fresh sheets by email from two farms, and ordered the produce we wanted at their established wholesale price. The third farm we would ask what was currently harvesting (either in person at farmers market, or by phone or email) and he also has predetermined wholesale prices. We also communicated directly with the farms about the crops we especially wanted, and throughout the season they would offer occasional discounts to us.
Q. How did you purchase the produce?
A. Initially, we purchased from farms weekly fresh sheets, and at the end of the season we arranged to bulk purchase storage crops with the remaining funds. The farmers we worked with would also offer deals on crops they knew we wanted if they had some they didn’t feel were high enough quality for their markets. For instance, if they had excess left over after weekly markets, farmers gave us the option to purchase it at a discounted rate. This worked out well for both the farmers to sell leftover, but still good quality, produce and for the food bank to stretch our budget.
Q. What feedback have you gotten from the growers about the purchasing program?
A. Growers have been excited about the program overall. Some feedback we heard from multiple farmers was to start planning with them in the winter so they can grow crops specifically for us. This would not only ensure that we have a consistent supply (weather permitting) of the crops we want, but we could also negotiate a price below their standard wholesale, since it would be a standing order paid for up front.
Q. Do you have any other suggestions for improvement going forth or general comments?
A. I really liked how open the purchasing pilot was as communities and relationships vary so much. I definitely looked at materials from different sites last year to get a sense of how purchasing programs were set up, so the end of year summary is useful. Starting the project earlier would be helpful, as by May the farms are already well into their planting. Being able to talk to farmers and set up contracts in January or February would be great! But starting out buying wholesale, allowed us to buy different crops and see what went over the best at the food bank.
Q. What was the greatest success from the purchasing project?
A. The greatest success was being able to purchase popular foods and hearing positive feedback from food pantry clients about the diversity, quantity, and quality of produce offered. We were able to put multiple fresh produce items into food boxes, whereas in the past we have either had limited fresh produce items, or an abundance of one or two crops like apples and zucchini. Having fresh carrots, beans, and salad mix, was a great improvement – both in terms of variety and in nutrient density.
Q. What was the biggest surprise (or potential area of improvement) about partnering with growers for the purchasing project?
A. One interesting thing we ran into was that sometimes farmers didn’t want to sell us some crops if they got requests from a store or restaurant. Although we were buying at the same price, they prioritized fulfilling the commercial needs to maintain and grow those relationships. This was a drawback to the wholesale purchasing model and could be mitigated by contracting the farm to grow certain crops for us.
Q. Are there interests in expanding the purchasing program to other farms and/or markets?
A. Doing contract growing is a possibility in which we are interested, and depending on the crops we want, we could expand to other farms, but staying small and strengthening the relationships with the farmers we worked with this year is probably our plan for next year.
Q. Were the goals of the purchasing program achieved? Why/why not?
A. Yes, we were able to purchase crops that are in higher demand at the food pantry but donated less frequently, like carrots, spinach, cabbage, peppers. We also spent a portion of the funds on storage crops like winter squash so that we’ll have produce items available into the winter months.