Mass. Farms Fight Food Insecurity

Robert Sondak
Spare Change News

The Produce to Pantries program at the Boston Natural Area Network (BNAN) was founded two-and-a-half years ago as a way to connect community gardens and people with limited means who were also facing food insecurity. Since the summer of 2010, this program has been providing local New England-grown produce gathered from farms and community gardens to the under-served Boston communities of Dorchester and Mattapan.

Founded in the summer of 2010, the program grew out of the “Plant a Row for Haiti” partnership between the Boston Garden Council (BGO) and the BNAN. This initiative provided fresh produce to families affected by the earthquake in Haiti. BNAN engaged in local relief efforts by supplying fresh produce to Haitian families through its connection with two local food programs: the Haitian American Public Health Initiative (HAPHI) and the Voice of the Gospel Tabernacle Church in Mattapan. The program distributed fresh food to supplement families’ food budgets, allowing Haitian families to send funds back to Haiti, and assisted Haitian-American families facing enlarged households after family and friends fled the earthquake-ravaged country.

From 2010 to 2011, BNAN gave 11,000 pounds of surplus produce to area families. This produce was harvested locally from July through late October and dispensed to 1,200 households. Ten community gardens across the city donated the surplus of their harvest to the Boston Haitian community. Volunteers traveled once a week to pick up bins of produce and brought it to the BNAN City Natives Learning Garden for processing. Three state-owned farms, the Brookwood Community Farm in Milton, The Trustees of Reservations’ Powisset Farm in Dover, and Weir River Farm in Hingham also donated fresh produce on a steady basis for the Haitian community.

Last year was a year of growth and change for the program, which included a name change from “Plant A Row for Haiti” to “Produce to Pantries.” The year also marked expansion with the addition of Dorchester House and St Mary’s Episcopal Church as new participating food pantries.

“Fifty percent of the people that come to St. Mary’s for BNAN produce are on foods stamps,” said Sarah Borgeson, Food Pantry Director at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. “Twenty-five percent more haven’t been in the United States long enough to apply for food stamps.”

The organization has continued to expand; this year they have supplied produce to two additional food pantries: HAPHI in Mattapan and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Uplands Corner, Dorchester. Three farms — TTOR’s Powisset Farm in Dover, Bradley Farm in Canton and Brookwood Community Farm in Canton — have also joined the initiative by providing donations on a regular basis.

“In 2011 we served a total population consisting of 1,200 households,” said Karen Chaffee, BNAN Stewardship Manager.

Borgeson pointed out that the Produce for Pantries program represents an initiative that helps families with limited income access high quality food that is not always available through the Greater Boston Food Bank.
The Greater Boston Food Bank released data in 2010 demonstrating that approximately 90,000 greater Boston residents received food assistance each week. The majority of the food these people received did not include any fresh produce. The Produce to Pantries program represents one of the few ways that people who frequent food pantries can access nutritious, fresh vegetables on a regular basis.

Mary Bracken, a community gardener and program volunteer from Jamaica Plains, said, “All community gardens in Boston donate their produce surplus.” She continued, “The community garden people let the BNAN and Karen Chaffee, the manager, know what produce they have and it is then picked up to be delivered to the food pantries.”

Bracken highlighted that she is a regular garden contributor to the program and is currently growing lettuce, kale, tomatoes and garlic.

“We get community garden vegetable surplus from several community gardens in Jamaica Plains and Dorchester,” Chaffee said. “We get produce from the Nightingale and St. Rose community gardens.”

According to the BNAN, the community gardens set aside a garden space to grow produce specifically for the Produce for Pantries program.

Chafee highlighted that produce distribution started off very positively in Dorchester. During the first three weeks of July they distributed 1,000 pounds of produce at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Chaffee elaborated that the program forecast for Dorchester is 6,000 pounds for 2012.

“We may break the forecast for Dorchester,” Chaffee said. “We may also break the forecast for both locations: Dorchester and Mattapan which was 11,000 pounds for 2010 and 2011.”

For more information access: http://bostonnatural.org/cgCouncil.htm

ROBERT SONDAK is a Spare Change vendor/writer. Robert has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston, College of Public and Community Service (CPCS). Robert also minored in urban planning and advocacy. Currently, Robert is the Executive Director for the Nutrition Education Outreach Project, http://neopneopt.blogspot.com

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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