Chefs and farmers have always worked together to feed the community. These partnerships are more important than ever during COVID-19, especially for community members who have lost their jobs or are facing a greater risk of food insecurity. Several local chefs, farmers, and organizations are banding together to provide people with high-quality, farm-fresh meals.
Before the pandemic, Food Connection collected surplus meals from restaurants and caterers and delivered them to community partners who distributed them to local people in need. Now that many events have been cancelled and there is less surplus prepared food available, they are turning to chefs and farmers to provide complimentary meals to people experiencing food insecurity, including veterans, at-risk youth, unemployed service industry workers, and people experiencing homelessness.
“Myself and two of my cooks just started reaching out to our vendors, local farmers, anyone we worked with in the past to see if they’d be interested in donating product for us to turn into meals that would get donated to people who were already food insecure before the pandemic,” Morris says.
The food donations rolled in and so did community support. A few weeks later, Food Connection received an anonymous $200,000 donation and began feeding 5,000 people per week. The donation allowed them to expand the program and the quantities of ingredients they could source directly from local farms. This keeps money in the local economy and supports farmers who have seen a significant drop in sales.
Building on sourcing connections they provide area restaurants, Morris reached out to ASAP to identify farmers that may need outlets for their products. Along with several other connections, this led to the purchase of 250 pounds of trout fillets from Sunburst Trout Farms. Reconnecting with a chef he had worked with in the past and supporting their family-run business was especially meaningful for Sunburst Trout’s owner and director of sales Wes Eason.
“That has been phenomenal. Given the volume that we’re producing right now, 250 pounds is a huge order, and just hearing the story of how they’re able to feed so many people, it’s touching,” Eason says.
Seniors who live in public housing residences are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Many seniors have been living in isolation for months and are avoiding grocery stores, yet they still need nutritious food. A team of local chefs wanted to help, so they partnered with nearby farms who could provide them with high-quality produce. The chefs prepare the meals at the Southside Kitchen and housing authority employees deliver them to seniors’ doorsteps each day—about 4,000 meals a week.
The collaboration is called We Give a Share, and it started as a conversation between Chef John Fleer and Aaron Grier of Gaining Ground Farm.
“Talking to John, I was like, I wonder if what we could do was to have a community supported agriculture program to where the food that we raised was going to the efforts at the Southside Kitchen,” Grier says.
Fleer and a team of chefs turn farm-fresh produce into nutritious meals like vegetable soup, cole slaw, and chili. Last week they established partnerships with four more local producers, including Looking Glass Creamery, Dry Ridge Farm, Creasman Farm, and Farm and Sparrow, which will supply the kitchen with local cheese, eggs, meat, grains, and apples.
Chef Hanan Shabazz has seen the impact these meals are having on seniors.
“It makes me feel good when I get a report back from somebody that I least expect telling me how great this food is and how much they really appreciate having a good, nutritious, delicious meal every day. It just warms my heart,” Shabazz says.
Chefs are also helping restaurant employees who are out of work. Phillip Bollhoefer, Executive Chef at The Montford Rooftop Bar, made value-added products like ramp butter to sell at the Sovereign Remedies Bodega. The proceeds went towards buying staff from The Montford to-go meals from local restaurants while they were unable to work.
These are just a few of the many chefs who are using local food to feed people in need. More information about how chefs and farmers are contributing to a resilient food system during this time of crisis can be found at www.asapconnections.org
Aired: May 25, 2020