Imagine being able to affect the lives of 800 Vineland-area families every week by ensuring that their pipeline to fresh fruits and vegetables can continue and expand. That’s the kind of opportunity that’s available by signing on as an advocate for Vineland’s Farm to Pantry program.
Farm to Pantry links local farms and food dispensaries to get fresh food to the people who live in food deserts where fresh food is not easy to come by. The program was designed by the Vineland Health Department and Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA working in collaboration with the Community Food Bank of NJ.
Last year from April to November, 35 tons of fresh produce was delivered to Vineland food pantries and soup kitchens allowing residents and their families to enjoy the taste and benefits of healthy eating.
Tyler Cahill, a Health Education Field Representative for the Department of Health, and Craig Traina, a Health Educator, cite the Farm to Pantry program as the most rewarding experience of their careers so far. “The impact is immediate,” Cahill said, recalling a resident who could serve fresh vegetables to her children for the first time in their lives. “She was so thankful to finally have access to healthy food.”
“Once a month, one of the pantry directors sends us a letter expressing thanks for the food deliveries and sharing stories about the impact on pantry customers,” added Traina. “We can really see how the fresh food deliveries make a difference in people’s lives.”
Farm to Pantry enters its third year of operation in 2018. The program has grown to include seven farms and seven pantries and soup kitchens (see list below). An educational component was added after one pantry director shared that many customers were unsure how to prepare meals with some of the vegetables. “Tyler came up with the idea of providing the pantries with recipe cards listing one to three steps for cooking produce like kale and eggplant that might be unfamiliar to people,” said Traina. The recipe cards received a great reception and the team is planning to expand the education strategy.
Their biggest issue is sustainability. Farm to Pantry needs many more hands-on-deck to help make deliveries and stock the produce. The goal in starting a program like this is to find people who can keep it going and move it forward. Traina and Cahill want to partner with more farms and pantries, but there’s just so much they can handle without volunteers stepping in to help fund, coordinate, oversee and do the heavy lifting.
So, they are putting out the call for help, hoping to boost participation throughout the network—more farms plus more pantries plus more volunteers can equal more fresh produce deliveries to underserved communities.
Pantries: Catholic Charities, Chestnut Assembly of God, Spirit and Truth Ministries, Faith Bible Church, Salvation Army Vineland, Vineland Ministerium, Rock of Salvation
Farms: Barsuglia Farms, Michael M. Smith Farm, Muzzarelli Farms, Ploch Farms, Inc., R&R Flaim, Tom Pontano & Son Farm LLC, Victoria Farms LLC