How Fresh and Local Supports Food Pantries
By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
Last week’s Food Fact from the Friends of the Market described a new initiative between the Saratoga Farmers’ Market and the Franklin Community Center’ food pantry, in which market vendors at the end of each Saturday market donate some of their less saleable items to the food pantry. This week, I’d like to share a little bit about how these items are distributed through the food pantry.
The Franklin Community Center expanded its food pantry in 2015. In addition to shelves filled with non-perishable items, the pantry now has large refrigerators and freezers as well as shelves dedicated to holding such items of produce like squashes, onions, and potatoes.
When donations arrive at the pantry, volunteers weigh and sort them. All donation also are entered into an inventory log that includes the name and address of the donor, the quantity and type of donation.
Food items from the farmers’ market and the community center’s garden are treated a little differently. I and other garden volunteers bag fresh kale, chard, and other items and mark the bags with the item’s name, date it was picked, and sometimes with a quick cooking tip. When I bring produce from the farmers’ market, I mark bags with the item’s name if it seems as if it would not be immediately recognizable. I also try to leave notes on whiteboards for volunteers, letting them know how to prepare these items. These little tips are crucial because knowing what to do with a food that is new to one’s diet is crucial to determining whether it will become a long-term addition – and source of support to farmers who grow it in the long run.
Julie Slovic, who serves as the outreach coordinator for the Franklin Community Center’s food pantry, said that the pantry serves an average of 750 individuals a month, or roughly 250 families. In general, recipients requiring emergency food assistance receive a package once a month that provides enough food for three to four days. Packages are based on the federal government’s Healthy Plate model of balancing proteins, carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables. Some items – particularly bread and fresh produce – are made available in addition to the packages on an open donations’ table.
The share of fruits and vegetables that come not from a commercial can but from fresh produce is growing steadily through weekly deliveries from the Regional Food Bank, and regular and occasional donations from individuals as well as local groceries. Over the summer, donations from community gardens and individuals through a Plant a Row for the Hungry project added to the fresh produce totals. Since October 15, weekly donations from the Saratoga Farmers’ Market have averaged about 50 pounds.
We encourage farmers’ market shoppers to join the effort of getting more fresh and local food to food pantries. A gift box for the Franklin Community Center’s food pantry is available at the Friends of the Market table, if you do wish to make an extra purchase while shopping Saturday for food pantry users. In addition to fruits and vegetables, the pantry can accept eggs, dairy products, honey, maple syrup, and some prepared foods such as pickles, mustards, juices, and cheeses. Thank you for giving this worthy cause some consideration.
Sausage and Kale Skillet
Recipe adapted from www.budgetbytes.com
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
Makes 4-6 servings
*Ingredients currently available at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market
• 16 oz. package ground sausage or links (more or less may be used)*
• 1 bunch kale*
• 8 oz. fresh mushrooms*
• 1 cup diced tomatoes*
• 1 cup soft, mild cheese of your choice – shredded*
1 If using sausage links, squeeze the sausage from the casings into a large skillet (freeze the remaining links for later use). Otherwise, cook the sausage over medium heat until fully brown. Break the sausage up into pieces as it cooks. It’s okay if it sticks to the bottom of the skillet a little as it cooks.
2. Remove stems and chop mushrooms thinly and add to the sausage. Cook until softened.
3. While the sausage and mushrooms are cooking, remove the woody stems from the kale, then slice it crosswise into thin strips. Rinse the kale well, then add it to the skillet. Stir it into the sausage and mushrooms and continue to cook until it is fully wilted (this happens within a few minutes).
4. Pour the diced tomatoes over the skillet, then top with the shredded cheese. Place a lid on the skillet and let it simmer until the cheese is melted (about 5-10 minutes).