‘Food for Free’ will farm land to feed the homeless

For the past 26 years, Food For Free, the Cambridge-based food-rescue organization, in partnership with Lindentree Farms in Lincoln, has set aside a quarter of an acre of land to grow produce to feed homeless people. Over the past two years alone, the nonprofit grew between 4,800 to 6,000 pounds of produce to help feed people in need in Boston.

Farmer Ari Kurtz has given Food For Free the use of a small section of his farm land, commonly referred to as the Field of Greens. Kurtz provides the farm with his tools, seeds and farming knowledge and experience. Kurtz helps the Field of Greens grow thick, nutrient-dense vegetables such as cabbage, kale, collard greens, lettuce and green onions, with volunteers harvesting produce weekly.

In 2011, Food For Free embarked on a new farm-to-table partnership with Pine Street Inn. Pine Street Inn is the largest shelter system for both men and women in Greater Boston. Food For Free changed its farming focus, which previously consisted of growing and delivering small quantities of fresh produce, to a variety of programs that involved exclusively working with Pine Street Inn and targeting their produce to what they need. As the supply or rescued produce grew, Food For Free had to revise the farm’s mission.

Claire Davies-Frishman, Pine Street Inn’s communications manager, highlighted what influenced Food For Free to change its farm focus.

“We invited Sasha Purpura, executive director, and Alanna Mallon, program manager for Food For Free, to tour our mens’ shelter and the iCater Culinary Program simultaneously,”

Frishman said. “We wanted Food For Free’s people to see Pine Street Inn.”

As the fifth year anniversary approached in 2016, Food For Free reinvented the farm-to-table program and donated the entire farm produce—or 4,700 pounds—to Pine Street and iCater’s Culinary Program, said Executive Chef Frank van Overbeeke.

Sasha Purpura, executive director of Food For Free, pointed out why they wanted to change the farm’s mission.

“We wanted the farm and its harvest to be more impactful for one agency,” she said. “Previously we distributed quantities to a wide range of programs.”

Alanna Mallon, Field of Greens’ program manager, highlighted that the produce distribution program has grown to the extent that the farm and shelter had to work and plan simultaneously to help feed people.

“We have had one year under our belt,” Mallon said. “The Pine Street Inn team has been able to do some extensive recipe planning based on our crop plans.”

Mallon continued to point out how the two groups are working together.

“Pine Street Inn has been able to ask for specific food items,” she said. “Spring lettuce we did not provide last year, but we were able to plan and provide it this year.”

Overbeeke pointed out that volunteers harvest produce once a week at the farm, and it’s delivered to iCater the same day. The chef highlighted that they get basic produce staples such as lettuce, cabbage, kale, collard greens, zucchini, summer squash and some broccoli. The chef also said that the growing season is the final two summer months of July and August and the first two fall months of September and October.

Overbeeke mentioned that they get a sizable quantity of produce weekly.

“We are getting 300 to 500 pounds weekly in season,” he said. “The quantity varies weekly, with warmer months more, and cold months maybe less.”

According to Overbeeke, Pine Street Inn stays in touch with the farm on a regular basis. The farm usually talks with him about his order and manages the donation via a weekly email. He also mentioned that planning for the next growing season takes place during the winter months when he reviews the budget and makes a food purchase list.

Frishman remarked that the farm-to-table program has positively reinforced the iCater Culinary Program.

“The trainees work with fresh produce, which adds another element in culinary-skills development,” Frishman said. “Experience working with fresh produce is preferable in restaurants and in food service.”

Overbeeke commented about the future of the farm-to-table program.

“It would help us if they could deliver twice a week,” Overbeeke said. “Maybe even fresh fruit. We look forward to working with them in the future.”

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