Use of food shelves in the Northern Lakes area increased dramatically during the pandemic and has continued to grow post-pandemic. For the Lakes Area Food Shelf and the Pine River Area Food Shelf, that has meant challenges in keeping up with customer demand. But Farms 2 Food Shelf, a new program, is meeting the need for produce on a whole new level.
The pilot program was spearheaded in 2022 by Lakes Area Food Shelf Director Kathy Adams. Adams believes everyone has the right to healthy food and she has been instrumental in the ongoing success of the Farms 2 Food Shelf program. Soucewell funded an additional year in 2023 through a grant. The cooperative effort is a double win as it connects area farmers and growers to area food shelves. Farmers and growers gain new markets and food shelves are able to offer locally grown produce, freshly harvested.
The list of sustainability wins is long:
Less handling/packaging costs
Fewer transportation miles
Reduced sales and marketing costs for producers
Strengthening local food systems by supporting local farmers/growers
Healthy and nutritious food available to all people
Pine River area program focuses on produce - other state programs feature protein and dairy
Opportunities for community involvement
The Program Needs Your Help
The success and popularity of the program has led to a new set of needs, this time for farmers and growers. As they have ramped up their production, they need more help to grow, harvest, and prepare produce for distribution.
“The growers involved in this program have planted more this year to be able to provide the produce, so they need more hands to help with all aspects of gardening,” said Mari Shackelford, Farms 2 Foodshelf Coordinator.
The type of tasks volunteers might do vary from location to location and by time of the season. But expect to do everything from planting to weeding. “Volunteers can do as much as they're comfortable with and training can be provided,” said Shackelford. Similarly, the time commitment is flexible. “it’s completely up to the volunteer and they work that out individually with growers themselves.”
It’s a great opportunity for people who want to learn more about gardening and growing food. They can see firsthand the challenges that come with insects, extreme weather, animal pests. “There’s a lot more to harvesting food than many people are aware of. It’s very educational and you can learn a lot about what you might get out of your own garden,” Shackelford added. Often volunteers go home with a bit of fresh produce as a reward.
Local Growers and Farmers Participating in Farms 2 Food Shelf as of August 5 2023 included:
Bee’n Happy Farms
Brakstad Natural Farms
Brambling Rows Farms
Double T Acres
Happy Dancing Turtle
Meadow Ridge Farm
Red Barn Orchard
Rick Wilson Blueberries
Pine Winder Blueberries
The $56,000 grant from Sourcewell for phase two of the pilot program runs through July 2024. The program is open to additional producers who would like to participate.
Impact on Food Shelves and Local Food Supply
Offering donated fresh local produce during the growing season is not a new offering in our area, Happy Dancing Turtle and others have done this for years. However Farms 2 Food Shelf has greatly expanded the amount, variety, and reliability of what is available. In addition to the two local food shelves, CommUnity Meals also receives produce through the program. CommUnity meals is a local collaborative effort that provides free weekly meals on Mondays at 4 pm at Riverview Church in Pine River and Thursdays at Backus Pine Mountaineer Senior Center.
LuAnn Gravelle, Food Shelf Coordinator at the Pine River-Backus Family Center, believes the Farms 2 Food Shelf program has given the food shelf broader access to farmers and growers in the area. “Our volunteers are so excited to tell neighbors about what we have to offer. They are also learning more about the types of produce/herbs we have access to. I think they have a deeper feeling of satisfaction of how we are serving our neighbors.”
Among people accessing the food shelf, Gravelle has noted more excitement about cooking. “It’s a place to access produce without the worry of high grocery store cost.” This program is possible with the granting of the Sourcewell funding and the collaboration between Pine River Area Food Shelf, CommUnity Meals and Lakes Area Food Shelf.
Also significant are the intangible benefits to the farmers/growers in the Farms 2 Food Shelf program. As Robin Bragstad or Brakstad Natural Farms, one of the participating farmers, noted in a recent Pine and Lakes Echo Journal article: “It is quite satisfying to both Lance and I to look at this in a big picture and understand how many people this is really benefiting.”
As Shackelford said of the program overall: “I am excited to see what else this leads to. It’s very interesting.”