The food pantry at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Marion, North Carolina has been a busy place since it was founded 40 years ago. The pantry grew from a small closet of non-perishable items to a weekly hub where community members receive meat, dairy, frozen foods, deli items, and now an abundance of fresh vegetables.
“We usually put the greens out at the end of the walkway where we give out the boxes and we ask them if they’d like to have greens. The people who have gotten the greens have been just absolutely thrilled,” says Carolyn Hensley, a longtime volunteer at St. John’s.
The food pantry is one of 26 organizations currently receiving fresh produce through ASAP’s Appalachian Farms Feeding Families program.
Appalachian Farms Feeding Families gets fresh, healthy food to people who need it—while also compensating farmers. The idea behind the program is simple: ASAP pays farmers to deliver local produce to over-burdened food pantries and child care centers in their own communities. This gives farmers a much-needed additional outlet with many restaurants closed or operating at limited capacity. The program is now supporting 28 farms and providing fresh, local food to 3,000 to 4,000 families each week.
The fresh produce couldn’t come at a better time as organizations experience an influx of people seeking nutritious food during the pandemic. Carolyn has seen the needs of the community ebb and flow over the decades, and says this is a particularly difficult time for many people.
“We’re seeing our regulars, but we’re also seeing people that we have not ever seen before,” she says.
Carolyn says a weekly delivery of greens and hydroponic lettuce has been lifting people’s spirits.
“We’ve had excellent produce, especially the greens that we have gotten. They had been picked that day and the people were extremely pleased to get those,” she says.
Those greens came from Ol’ Turtle Farm, also in Marion. Farmer Eileen Droescher has many goals for her diversified vegetable farm, including strengthening the local food system and reducing food insecurity in her community.
“It’s something that’s really near and dear to my heart,” Eileen says.
Elieen has a longstanding partnership with St. John’s food pantry. She grows vegetable starts for their community garden, which yields about 1,000 pounds of produce in a typical year. Now she’s able to deliver fresh greens, tomatoes, and winter squash directly from the farm. She says St. John’s food pantry is a good partner for her farm because their needs match the amount of produce she has to offer.
“They’re not too big, so I can produce enough that I feel they can make use of it. It’s not like it’s a drop in the bucket situation. The people there are just wonderful. Their hearts are in the right place and they’re easy to work with,” she says.
In addition to these personal relationships, Eileen and other farmers involved with the Appalachian Farms Feeding Families program have also found another outlet for their produce during an especially challenging year.
“So many farms, especially the ones whose customer bases are restaurants or smaller places, lost their markets for many, many weeks and months. The restaurants weren’t operating and the farmers had already planted and planned on being able to sell that produce, but there wasn’t a market to sell it. This program provided them an opportunity to sell and at least make back some of the money they would have lost,” Eileen says.
Eileen says it’s been a win-win for farmers and people experiencing food insecurity because it provides another outlet for farms to sell market-quality products while providing community members with fresh produce that they might not be able to access otherwise. She adds that it’s been a great benefit to her farm and has helped her be able to support people experiencing food insecurity in a bigger way.
Carolyn from St. John’s food pantry agrees that these community partnerships are especially important during a pandemic, both for people seeking nutritious food and local farmers.
“It gives them a way to be able to sell their produce and it gives us a way to get the really fresh stuff,” Carolyn says.
Learn more about ASAP’s Appalachian Farms Feeding Families program and find a list of participating food relief sites at www.asapconnections.org
Aired: October 12, 2020