F2FP at Volunteers of America Western WA
The mission of Volunteers of America (VOA) is “To serve people and communities in need and create opportunities for people to experience the joy of serving others.” The VOA food warehouse center in Everett distributed roughly 2.5 million pounds of product to food pantries from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. Those pantries served 150,000 households throughout Snohomish County.
Participating in the Farm to Food Pantry program enabled VOS to support local farms and build relationships for future purchasing, gleaning and donation opportunities.
F2FP Grant: $2,000
Community Matching Grants: $2,000
One Leaf Farm is an eight-acre vegetable farm that recently relocated from Carnation to their current Snohomish location. 2015 is their fifth year in operation. One Leaf was paid $667 for 256 pounds of produce, which comprised of: $120 of lacinato kale 48 pounds ($2.50/pounds), $120 of red beets 48 pounds ($2.50/bunch), $427 of radishes 172 bunches or 160 pounds ($2.50/bunch).
Skylight Farm is a five-acre family owned and operated produce farm with a small animal husbandry operation located in Snohomish. Skylight Farm was paid $667 for 2,745 pounds of produce, which comprised of $250 of broccoli 126 pounds ($1.98/pounds), $417 of Tomatoes 149 pounds ($2.80/pounds). They donated 330 pounds of various produce after the purchase contract.
Bell River Ranch is an organic, U-pick farm in Snohomish. Bell River Ranch was paid $667 for 256 pounds of produce, which comprised of: $375 of apples- 150 pounds ($2.50/pounds), $106 of plums 53 pounds ($2.00/lb), $185 of grapes- 53 pounds ($3.50/pounds). They donated 13 pounds of fruit after the purchase contract.
Stocker Farms is a family owned farm located in Snohomish which provides local produce, pumpkins, a 10-acre corn maze, and U-cut Christmas Trees. Stocker Farms was paid $667 for 1,882 pounds of sweet corn which is 37 cases at $18 a case and 48 ears per case. They contacted the food bank to coordinate end of season market cull.
Whitehorse Meadows is a 5-acre certified organic blueberry farm in Arlington. Whitehorse Meadows was paid $667 for 222 pounds of blueberries at $3.00 pound. They donated 523 pounds after purchase contract.
Golden Treasures is a 20-acre family farm in Arlington that includes a nursery, a farm store, and U-pick. Golden Treasures was paid $667 for 621 pounds of beets at $26 per 25 pounds bag ($20 delivery fee). They donated 21 pounds of Japanese radishes after the purchasing contract.
Q+A with Harvest VISTA Sarah Gordon
Q. What are the goals of the purchasing program?
A. Connect with farms in the community to build relationships between farms and local hunger relief programs. We also intended to support local agriculture and help growers keep gleaning in mind for their farm when they have surplus produce.
Q. Was the community-matching fund helpful in creating a sustainable relationship?
A. Yes, this really helped insert our programs into their business. When we become a client, growers needed to stay in touch with us to make the exchange/process happen. This allowed us to get to know each other and help them remember we are here.
Q. What was the response of farmers when they were approached regarding the purchasing program?
A. All farms that were approached with the purchasing program expressed interest in donating/hosting gleans in early stage of program outreach (at that time, the only gleaning opportunities were with Project Harvest). The farms that expressed interest in gleaning were the farms I reached out to about the produce purchasing program. They were very willing to work with the program, and only one farm did not participate — most likely due to their farm plan.
Q. How did you choose produce types and determine the prices with your farmers?
A. I allowed the farms to name their own price, they generally gave me a range of wholesale prices and gave us the better rate. I thought within the first year it was optimal to offer to buy at market/wholesale price, and express we would be flexible based on farm yield if we needed to change produce type.
Q. How did you purchase the produce?
A. We purchased most of the produce in bulk wholesale orders. Most produce was delivered to the VOA distribution center. Two farms allowed us to harvest the produce ourselves, this was achieved through multiple volunteer harvests at these farms.
Q. What feedback have you received from the growers about the purchasing program?
A. Bell River Ranch is a new orchard and did not have experience with volume to estimate how many apples they could provide for our program [to stipulate in the contract]. They regretted not offering 1,000 pounds at a really great rate in order to ensure the apples did not go to waste before the u-pick could fully harvest them. Bell River seems very willing to participate and donate more in the future.
Skylight Farms also appreciated the fact that our program was flexible. The farm had an unexpected abundance of cherry tomatoes, so offered those to our program instead of carrots.
Q. Do you have any other suggestions for improvement going forth or general comments?
A. Building flexibility into the program allowed the farms to change what produce they provided to our program when they had a higher or lower yield of one crop. This is helpful for the farm and the farm-food pantry relationship, but it can quickly replace the purpose/opportunity to glean. Initially, it can be challenging to navigate when having these conversations with farmers, but the experience we gained this year will help to improve the process in future years. I recommend being flexible based on type of produce, but discuss the new price per pound thoroughly — possibly over the phone – to be sure that the new arrangement doesn’t result in a lower yield. (Note: This is a tricky concept because not all produce is equal in nutritious value!).
Q. What was the most successful aspect of the purchasing program?
A. The most successful donation was from Whitehorse Meadows farm. The farm dropped off an additional 520 pounds of unsold blueberries to our distribution center following a farmers market.
The greatest success in terms of building a relationship was working with Skylight Farms on a regular basis to harvest and glean produce on their commercial farm. They are very supportive of our program and this serves as a great example of the relationship that can develop.
Q. Are there interests in expanding the purchasing program to other farms and/or markets?
A. The Port of Everett Farmers Market growers donated over 6,000 pounds of produce. Every week they willingly donated hundreds of pounds that they did not sell. It would be fantastic to purchase the surplus from these farms to help sustain local agriculture and fill the gaps of the market.
Q. Were the goals of the purchasing program achieved? Why/why not?
A. Yes, all farms were very willing to donate surplus if there was an opportunity to do so.
Once a week Sarah Gordon led a team of volunteers in gleaning leftover produce from the Everett Farmers Market. This market is unique because it is “the last in the circuit” of the week’s farmers markets in this part of the state. The volunteers experienced great success, collecting about 4,500 pounds of produce from this market throughout the season.
There is also a unique opportunity for the purchasing program to help the vendors by purchasing some of the produce left over at the end of the market day. This potentially could also encourage gleaning opportunities. All unsold produce could be taken directly to the food pantry.
Lee’s produce is a 40-acre farm run by a six-member family located in Kent. They are the biggest contributor each week to the market gleaning that Sarah led. Christy Mua of Lee’s produce said, “We really don’t know what to do with all the unsold produce.” Market gleaning is a great method for getting fresh, nutritious produce into the food pantries and by expanding the purchasing program into this arena, it can benefit both the growers and the food pantries.