Farm and garden partnerships keep Bellingham Food Bank in fresh produce

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 24, 2013 

boxxglean

Carrots planted for the Bellingham Food Bank are harvested by a volunteer in July, 2011.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Summer has turned into my favorite time of year at Bellingham Food Bank. Because of some innovative programming, Whatcom County's agricultural bounty, and the kindness of our community, fresh produce literally pours into our facility near the end of summer. It's a lot of work handling all the incoming produce but the families who visit our food bank love what's being harvested.

Bellingham Food Bank has a number of programs focused in getting locally grown produce into our food bank. The work really begins in winter and now is the time that we appreciate those efforts. At the start of the day on Wednesday, Aug. 21, our large commercial cooler was absolutely full. It was stuffed with local cabbage, beets, onions, corn, plums, kale, zucchini, cucumbers and more. Matt, our warehouse manager, had to be very creative to fit it all into the refrigerator when we closed on Tuesday evening. Staff and volunteers wondered if we would be able to give out all that great food when we opened on Wednesday.

Nearly 500 families came for help during the six hours we were open. By then end of the day we distributed nearly 30,000 pounds of food -- the equivalent of one fully loaded semi-truck. About half of the food we handed out was locally grown produce, much of it picked only 24 hours before food bank customers took it home. Did you know Bellingham Food Bank loves fresh vegetables? Did you have any idea we could hand out 15,000 pounds of vegetables in a single day? Where did it all come from?

Our food bank is a leader in the hunger relief world at accessing local produce. We are able to do it because of great partnerships with gardeners and farmers and the support of many who recognize the value of these programs. Many of the vegetables come from people's backyard gardens. This is the time of year when most home gardens produce more than the gardener can eat. We designed the Victory Gardens program to make great use of that excess by giving it to hungry families. All the zucchini we handed out on Aug. 21 came from Victory Gardens.

Even more of the veggies we handed out came from local farms. Here is a list of just some of the farms we partner with -- it's a who's who of local farms: Boxx, Sunseed, Rabbit Fields, Cedarville, Hopewell, Terre Verde, Moondance, Osprey Hill. Our Small Potatoes Gleaning Project is visiting these farms nearly every day of the week at this time of year. Our dedicated staff and dozens of volunteers harvest food that would otherwise be lost by being ploughed under. Last year Small Potatoes rescued 240,000 pounds of local fruit and vegetables for hungry families. We are in debt to those who invite us onto their property to glean.

Bellingham Food Bank doesn't just rescue food from local farms, we also buy it. This year our Food Bank Fresh program expanded and we are purchasing more local produce than ever. We are thrilled to be able to buy vegetables from our local farmers. We have wholesale contracts with seven farms that are growing and delivering specific crops to our food bank throughout the growing season. Food Bank Fresh is good for local farms because it provides them with a guaranteed contract for the growing season. Food Bank Fresh is great for Bellingham Food Bank because we are getting great vegetables at a great price for the families we serve.

The result of these programs is a lot of delicious, healthy, local vegetables for the hundreds of families who visit our food bank on a regular basis. It is both sad and wonderful to know that many kids' first taste of a fresh carrot will happen at the food bank. These programs wouldn't be possible without the partnerships with home gardeners, farmers and dedicated volunteers. They also wouldn't be possible without the support of donors who provide essential financial support. We get great support from local individuals and businesses. Some, such as Unity Group and Logos, have donated specifically to our agricultural programs. Foundations including Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and Whatcom Community Foundation provide even more support.

We believe hunger is unacceptable. We believe all families should have access to local food. We know we cannot do it without great partners. We're proud to share our story, please consider joining our efforts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Cohen is executive director of the Bellingham Food Bank, 1824 Ellis St. For more information call 360-676-0392 or go to bellinghamfoodbank.org.

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