Collaboration between nonprofit, organic farm brings fresh produce to local tables
HOW TO HELP
To make a tax-deductible donation to Good Food for All, send a check made out to IFM (with Good Food for All written on the memo line) to Riverhill Farm, 13500 Cement Hill Road, Nevada City, CA, 95959
When JoLynn Haines sits down for Thanksgiving dinner with her two sons today, she hopes the abundance of fresh food will help ease the lingering pain from the hardships her family has endured.
After spending months in a shelter, she was finally able to move her kids into a Grass Valley apartment. But money remains tight, and like hundreds of Nevada County families, the struggle to put fresh, healthy food on the table is a never ending challenge.
Some people may think all Americans — regardless of income — have access to nutritious whole grains, lean meats, fresh vegetables and fruit. In reality, studies reveal that food prices are a significant hurdle for those who are trying to balance good nutrition with affordability.
As budgets dwindle, food choices often shift toward cheaper but more energy-dense foods. Often the first items dropped are healthier foods, such as high-quality proteins and produce. Instead, low cost energy-rich starches and items containing vegetable fats or added sugar are often the first to go in the grocery cart, as they are the cheapest way to fill hungry stomachs. Sadly, this has resulted in a host of diet-related diseases nationwide, which include obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
But today, the fresh produce on Haines’s Thanksgiving table is the result of a unique and expanding collaboration between the nonprofit Interfaith Food Ministry (IFM) and a local organic farm.
For more than three decades, IFM has provided supplemental food to needy families in western Nevada County. But in recent years there’s been a push to provide more fresh produce to their clients.
“I remember getting small amounts of donated produce from IFM years ago as a child,” said Haines. “Some of it was gross. It wasn’t the fault of IFM — they did what they could. But it was mostly surplus from grocery stores.”
MORE FRESH FOOD
In 2017, Alan Haight and his wife, Jo McProud, of Riverhill Farm in Nevada City, launched a campaign to provide more fresh food to low income families in western Nevada County. In the years prior, the farm had been donating produce to IFM, but only when there was a surplus or “second quality” batches that could not be sold in stores.
Coined “Good Food for All,” the goal of the then new campaign was to raise enough funds for IFM to be able to invest in planned crops and actually purchase batches of fresh vegetables from the farm so that every client could go home with high quality fresh food, and not rely on sporadic surplus donations.
In that first year, an impressive $12,000 was raised for the Good Food For All effort, and Riverhill was able to plan their harvests, which resulted in fresh produce on the tables of far more families in need. That inspired Haight and McProud to expand their farming efforts for IFM the following year and beyond.
Today, tax-deductible donations made to IFM that are specifically earmarked for growing produce (Good Food For All) go toward the goal of allowing IFM clients to go home with fresh food every week. This translates into a much healthier food intake for thousands of Nevada County residents, which can be a significant contributor to clients’ health and wellbeing.
“In the past, before the Good Food for All campaign, there were two problems,” said Haight. “IFM had to rely on random amounts and random occurrences of produce. They could never rely on a solid amount. And as a small farm, we couldn’t grow food to donate because it would undermine us economically. The solution was to raise IFM money specifically earmarked for fresh produce. Each year, if we know by February how much our budget will be, we can plant our crops accordingly.”
Haight added that the Good Food for All campaign is now expanding beyond Riverhill — he and IFM staff have begun reaching out to other regional farms and food producers in the hopes they, too, can help raise funds to invest in crops that go directly to feed the hungry. Currently a fundraiser is underway, where IFM will match donations up to $15,000, which could mean a significant boost of $30,000 to the program. Additionally, the larger the program grows, the more likely it will attract outside grants and funding.
“Good Food For All is a win-win-win for us all,” said IFM’s executive director Phil Alonso. “It’s a win for the clients, a win for local food producers because it increases their business, and a win for keeping our food supplies local.”
Last year, The Food Policy Council of Nevada County launched the goal of having at least 20% of all food provided by food pantries, restaurants and independent grocery stores to be purchased from local food producers by the year 2025. Not only would that be an economic boost to local farms, it would reduce the carbon footprint from trucking in food from afar and minimize the potential for shortages due to breaks in the food chain nationally. Good Food for All ties in with all of this nicely, explained Alonso.
Over the years, the volume of food that IFM has given to hungry Nevada County families is staggering. From 2012 to the present, there has been a total of 200,541 family visits and 490,244 individuals. Within the first 10 months of 2020, IFM had given out nearly 28% more bags of food (105,307) than in 2019. One clear cause of this dramatic rise in demand has been COVID-19.
Researchers at Northwestern University estimate that food insecurity nationwide has more than doubled as a result of COVID-19, now impacting as many as 23% of households this year, a majority of which include children. Sadly, these numbers are not likely to drop soon.
While Haight is now technically retired from Riverhill Farm, he says his quest to raise funds for Good Food for All will continue. Beginning in January, farmers Kyle and Melanie Burns will take over the daily operations at Riverhill.
“To me, the ideal is that every member of the community does something to help someone else to make up for shortfalls,” said Haight. “As someone who has grown food, it makes sense that one of my goals would be to make organically grown produce more widely available. This is part of our commitment to making our community stronger, more resilient, and more equitable.”
“I tear up when I see how happy a mother is when she sees fresh fruits and veggies peeking out of the top of the bag — and this happens hundreds of times a week,” said Alonso. “They simply can’t afford this stuff at the grocery store.”
“When you’re a mother on food stamps like me, you have to shop ahead of time in bulk and it isn’t always practical to buy produce,” said Haines. “My kids are actually excited when they get IFM food — they literally dig to the bottom of the bag, looking for all the produce. It humbles me as a recipient to know the community is rallying around those of us in need. I’m just so grateful.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4203.
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