Food Hubs Help Distribute Surplus Produce

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Tompkins Weekly 6-8-15

By Linda Brandt Myers

If you have a backyard garden or share in a CSA, you’ve probably grown more fresh produce than you can use and have ended up throwing some of it away.

What if there was a place nearby where you could take your surplus fresh fruits and veggies that would then redirect it to community members in need who can’t afford to buy it.

That idea was the inspiration for Friendship Donations Network’s Neighborhood Food Hubs program, now in its third year. In summer 2014 people donated 2,800 lbs. of fresh produce via FDN’s Neighborhood Food Hubs — designated coolers mostly on people’s porches — and volunteers redistributed it to hundreds of local people for whom it made an enormous difference.

“That much, just from people’s backyard gardens?” queried an incredulous-sounding Lauren Stefanelli when she interviewed FDN coordinator Meaghan Sheehan Rosen and board member Art Pearce on “PEGASYS Presents,” a local Community Access Television program on channel 13 and heard the high number.

Yes, that much, from just ten Neighborhood Food Hubs last year, notes FDN board president Anisa Mendizabal. “This summer we’ve got fourteen hubs, and are likely to collect and give away even more,” she says.

The fresh produce makes an enormous difference to the health and well-being of many, says Dawn Rockwell. She volunteers with the Halsey Valley food pantry, an FDN Neighborhood Food Hub recipient, and picks up hub-donated fresh produce for the pantry from FDN’s facility in the Just Be Cause Center on W. State/MLK Jr. St. in downtown Ithaca.

“People tell us that to come to our pantry and get super-fresh produce from someone’s garden is awesome,” Rockwell says. Growing up, she helped her family grow their own fresh produce, and she continues that tradition, often donating any surplus to the pantry. But nowadays, she says, many people in need of fresh produce lack the knowledge or resources to be able to grow it. Since they can’t afford to buy it at stores, they often go without.

“We continually receive feedback from the food pantries that they want more produce. The Neighborhood Food Hubs are intended to help meet that need,” says Rosen.

On Friday afternoons Ithaca’s Southside Community Center hosts an FDN Neighborhood Food Hub. It’s right in front of the fruit and vegetable stand at the outdoor Congo Square Market. Any fresh food that doesn’t get sold at the stand goes into the food hub cooler.

The best part about being an FDN hubholder, says Charles Rhody, nutrition and fitness coordinator at Southside, is: “We’re putting healthy food on the plates of the families we serve — kale and other fresh greens and vegetables, apples, strawberries, and peaches.” A diet enriched by that kind of food, he says, “can help prevent illnesses such as diabetes.”

Southside also host a food pantry twice a month, and all the fresh produce collected in the hub cooler the previous Friday gets distributed at the pantry. “It’s great that we can now offer fresh fruits and vegetables, which our food pantry clients normally can’t afford,” Rhody says.

Just 20 miles away in Groton an FDN Neighborhood Food Hub and a food pantry that’s an FDN recipient have really helped the community, says Sara Knobel, director of the Groton Public Library.

Knobel describes the town as a food desert, with almost no stores that carry affordable fresh produce. To rectify that problem, she and Groton resident Ruth Williams set up the pantry and the hub right at the library. The pantry is year-round, the hub operates in summer. Both are every Tuesday — dubbed “Healthy Tuesdays.” Surplus vegetables and fruits are donated primarily by Buried Treasures, a nearby organic farm and CSA.

“Four older women from senior housing come every week,” Knobel relates. Getting the free produce and pantry food has meant they no longer have to choose between food and medications, she says. “One woman took my hand and said: ‘God bless you. It makes such a difference,’” Knobel recalls.

Judith Barker, board president of Ithaca Community Gardens, says she and ICG got involved with FDN’s Neighborhood Food Hubs program because: “We were tired of seeing unpicked vegetables and fruits rot on the vine every August and September.”

There are coolers on each side of the garden, where growers can donate surplus vegetables and fruits. Drop-off days are Wednesday and Sunday.

Says Barker: “I think everybody has a right to healthy, nutritious local, sustainable food. It’s outrageous that we throw food away while people go hungry in this land of plenty.”

Founded in 1988 by Sara Pines, Friendship Donations Network rescues fresh, nutritious food that would otherwise be thrown away and redistributes it to neighbors in need. FDN is almost entirely volunteer-run.

The 2015 Neighborhood Food Hubs season will run from July 1 through October 1. For locations, drop-off days and times, see the FDN website, or call (607) 216-9522.



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