Whitney Palmer

Healthcare. Politics. Family.

Local Food for Local Needs

Published in the Winter 2012 Furman University Alumni Magazine

By Whitney L.J. Howell

Furman alumni and students are joining the movement to promote the virtues of fresh food and healthy communities.

Visit a central North Carolina farmer’s market any Saturday and the mounds of fresh, locally grown food belie the state’s paradoxical nature. Farms statewide are among the most productive in the country, but North Carolinians are also among America’s hungriest.

Although farmers produce plenty of food, no of!cial system exists to get it to people who need it most. Often, farmers simply throw away the unsold fruits and vegetables that could nourish food-insecure families. It’s a reality Margaret Tolbert Gifford ’86 is working to change.

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Margaret Gifford talks with a community child about good food choices.

After talking with farmers and market organizers, Gifford identifed a consistent way she and the community could improve meals for many nearby families. In 2009, she launched Farmer Foodshare (FFS), a nonpro!t organization in the state’s Research Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area)
that collects donations of fresh food and funds weekly. Its business model as a shoestring, volunteer-supported venture makes FFS a !rst-of-its-kind project.

“After hearing a homily one Sunday on local hunger, I realized if I wanted to make a difference, I just had to do it,” says Gifford, who left a successful public relations career shortly before launching FFS. “It started when I asked Carrboro Farmer’s Market leaders if they could deliver food I collected to Chapel Hill food pantries.”

FFS blossomed after that. In the !rst six months, the organization collected 1,000 pounds of food at its Carrboro Farmer’s Market donation station. Contributions sky-rocketed in 2010, totaling 40,000 pounds of fresh produce from !ve local farms.

Ken Dawson, co-owner of Maple Spring Gardens in Cedar Grove, has worked with FFS since the beginning. Donating his unsold produce is something he gladly does every week.

“It’s good to have a mechanism to give produce to those in need,” Dawson says. “That’s the most satisfying part of the program. Each market, I can give a box of tomatoes or something similar. It occasionally puts a few dollars in my pocket, but more importantly, it puts food in the hands of people who can use it.”

Local residents who shop at the market are just as enthusiastic about helping their neighbors. According to Sarah Blacklin, manager of the Carrboro program, market attendees offer support not just by contributing money, but by purchasing food. Weekly donations total between 500 and 600 pounds.

“Not only are our farmers happy to do it, but our customers are excited about it and seek out the donation station,” Blacklin says. “It’s a very community-centered endeavor.”

All donations stay within the community. The collected food bolsters 16 organizations serving those in need, including the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC). In fact, FFS donations helped the IFC provide nearly 900 meals during the 2010 holiday season.

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A community child learns about good food choices at the Carrboro Farmer's Market.

“Our families appreciate the fresh produce,” says Chris Moran, IFC executive director. “Fresh food is increasingly expensive, and they’re delighted that the corn, cucumbers, tomatoes and sweet potatoes look like the ones at the grocery store.”

The fruits and vegetables FFS delivers to IFC enhance the quality of food the agency offers, Moran says. They add a freshness to the recycled food from grocery stores or restaurants that constitutes the majority of donations.

But providing fresh food addresses only part of the problem, Gifford says. Combating hunger over the long term means families must learn to properly prepare and save healthy foods.

That’s where the FFS program “Farm to Community Afterschool” comes in. Elementary school students receive $10 to spend at the market, and FFS teaches them to prepare their purchases in a nutritious way. Recently, the children learned how to make and save pickles.

“It’s a path to !nding food independence,” Gifford says. “Not only does it introduce lowincome kids to new foods, but it destroys the misconception that kids don’t like fresh food.”

Walking through and talking with farmers makes the market a welcoming place for children of low-income families who can’t typically afford fresh produce. It also gives farmers the opportunity to meet many of those who bene!t from the fruits and vegetables they grow. 

The impact of Farmer Foodshare doesn’t stop there. The organization expanded its programs in August 2011 to help the backbone of its operations — the farmers. In recent years, Gifford says, local farmers lost up to $17.5 million annually in unsold produce they either had to throw away or feed to livestock. The FFS program “Pennies on the Pound” gives farmers an additional method to earn income, as an e-commerce site connects local farms with nonpro!t organizations that will buy excess produce at a discounted price.

“These farmers sweat every single head of lettuce, and most of them are living at the poverty line, too,” Gifford says. “Pennies on the Pound is a way for agencies that help communities in need get food at an affordable price, while putting money back in the farmers’ pockets.”

To read the story in its original location, pg. 16: http://www2.furman.edu/sites/fumag/Documents/FMagWinter2012.pdf

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March 1, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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