Americorps VISTA Grace Plihal serves with Food for Others in Fairfax, VA, 30 minutes outside of the nation’s capital. Food for Others is a hybrid food bank and food pantry, both storing and distributing millions of pounds of food every year. In 2017, a VISTA position in conjunction with Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) was created with the purpose of gleaning fresh produce from the area. Last year, the HAH VISTA brought in an additional 23,000 pounds of food. Food for Others believes that with the help of the community, we can eliminate hunger in the Fairfax area.
A few years ago, Food for Others implemented a new choice program for recipients of emergency food. Rather than giving clients a pre-packed box, they now allow them to “shop” for foods of their choice through a sectioned-off area of the warehouse. Depending on the family size, clients get to pick a predetermined number of items based off of groups of the food pyramid. Since the previous VISTA began, the produce section has been overflowing with an abundance of fresh and healthy treats. Last week, huge bundles of leafy chard lined the top shelf, while delicacies like fennel and garlic scapes sat below. This week, summer squash, Pattypan, and green and yellow zucchini were a popular favorite. The best part? Almost all of it came from a local farm.
This summer, Food for Others began an official partnership with Waterpenny Farm in Sperryville, Virginia. Waterpenny will be providing 19 weeks of CSA shares to clients. This initiative began in mid-June and will continue through the fall. A CSA or community shared agriculture, is a way for members of the community to support local farms by pledging money for a share of the farm, and receiving fresh produce in return. Through an online campaign, Food for Others and Waterpenny Farm raised $5,823– enough for 15 shares for clients. The new initiative has not been without its struggles. Periodically, clients will see items on the produce shelf that may be unfamiliar to them, or that they may not know how to cook. Because of this, they might choose to skip the produce section entirely.
This is where the food demonstrations come in. A few weeks ago, VISTA Grace Plihal cooked kale chips and had the clients sample them. By the end of the day, all the locally grown kale had flown off the shelf. Zucchini bread is up next week, and it promises to be a hit with kids. Additionally, trained “shopper” volunteers will give clients suggestions on new and innovative ways to use the produce, such as bacon-wrapped garlic scapes and stuffed pattypan squash. Through the partnership with Waterpenny, Food For Others hopes that clients will choose to experiment with local fruits and vegetables they may have never seen before. And maybe someday down the line, they’ll be moved to plant their own garden, full of kale, chard, and garlic scapes.