Posts Tagged ‘farm to freezer’

posted by | on , , | Comments Off on A Day with Farm to Freezer

The following post is written by Ecowomen Cheryl Kollin of Full Plate Ventures and Katie Thatcher, Intern. 

Every Saturday Farm to Freezer’s volunteers meet at the Spiral Path Farm stand at the Bethesda’s Fresh Farm Market and with help from the residents of Montgomery County’s Pre-Release Center, collect, weigh, record, and distribute generously-donated produce. The unsold produce is collected, weighed, and redistributed to three locations: salad greens and other vegetables used fresh goes to Bethesda Cares’ cook, other produce is loaded into our cars for prep, and any remaining food we don’t have capacity to prepare goes to MANNA Food Center for needy families.

Within the hour we arrive at our prep kitchen in one of three donated church kitchens where we meet and greet ten volunteers and hit the ground running! After a quick orientation, we wash up, don aprons, name buttons, and gloves and start chopping. With the incredible culinary efforts of our volunteers, the entire stovetop is soon filled with pots of simmering tomato sauce and apple sauce, pots of brightly blanched sweet peppers and zucchini, while eggplant roasts in the oven. The mixed aromas waft throughout the church and attract curious visitors wanting to know what’s cookin’.

Farm to Freezer Fills a Need

Bethesda Cares serves 20,000 meals per year to the homeless population in the community through a dedicated and caring network of church and community organizations, businesses, Foundations, and government agencies. Bethesda Cares is the official ‘gleaner’ of the Bethesda Fresh Farm Market. Farmers, including Spiral Path Farm, donate fresh produce not sold at the Saturday market, donating an average of 300 lbs. of local produce per week—including bushels of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and zucchini. When crops are at peak harvest, Bethesda Cares receives more fresh food than it can use before the food spoils.

To address this problem of spoiled food, Bethesda Cares and Full Plate Ventures launched Farm to Freezer this summer with support from a diverse network of volunteers, Churches’ donated kitchen space, and businesses. Bethesda Cares’ meals manager who cooks a hot lunch for 40-70 each day uses the frozen food in preparing healthier meals for its clients.

Back to the Kitchen

After everything is chopped and sauce is cooling we take a well-deserved break, munching on Cheryl’s homemade hummus, sliced veggies, and donated Honest Tea and Atwater bakery bread while discussing food issues –hunger and homelessness, local farms, food banks, wasted food, and community service.

We all head back to the kitchen to package our product with a vacuum sealer and in Ziploc bags. After all is sealed, weighed, recorded, and cleaned up, we thank our wonderful volunteers, and transport our food to Bethesda Cares’ freezer for the cook’s future use in casseroles, stews, and soups. The food peelings are composted, equipment stored, and aprons washed for the following week. Prep days involve hours spent meeting new friends, sharing a love of cooking and bonding over a common goal: to serve through the preparation of healthy meals for hungry members of our community.

Our First Season

Farm to Freezer is proud of its accomplishments this first season! In its first five months, Farm to Freezer has:

  • Engaged more than 150 volunteers from diverse backgrounds and experiences
  • Redistributed over 5,000 pounds of organic vegetables generously donated from Spiral Path Farm
  • Prepared more than 1,500 pounds of food for the freezer to serve 2,500 homeless people through Bethesda Cares’ meals program throughout the year.

Farm to Freezer Benefits the Whole Community

1). Provides healthier unadulterated food for Bethesda Cares’ client meals that can be used through the winter when fresh local vegetables are unavailable.
2). Supports farmers through tax-deductible donations
3). Reduces the amount of waste from Farmer’s Markets’ surplus
4). Provides community-wide volunteer opportunities
5) Raises local awareness about homelessness, nutrition, and locally-grown food

Join us for Food Day—October 24th to celebrate our first season’s accomplishments. Free, with complimentary appetizers by My Thyme Catering.  Sign up on Bethesda Cares Meet Up: click on Oct. 24th event.

For more information, visit: Follow us on Facebook www.facebook/farm2freezer for stories about who’s engaged and how we’re helping our community.

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by Cheryl Kollin, Full Plate Ventures

Last Sunday 10 volunteers came together to beat the heat by washing, chopping, and blanching fresh vegetables at St. John’s Church in Bethesda. In just four hours volunteers with Farm to Freezer prepared 50 lbs. of tomato sauce, diced zucchini, and roasted eggplant for the freezer. This food will be incorporated into healthy meals throughout the year for Bethesda Cares’ meals program that feeds the hungry in our community.

“Hooray for us!  It was actually a lot of fun and nice people to chat with too,” exclaimed Susan Wexler who joined the prep crew on Sunday. “Someone asked me if I was a professional; I said, well, I have spent a lot of time in kitchens!”

You don’t have to be an experienced cook to join us. The program seems to resonate with people for many reasons. Some people volunteer because they like to work in the kitchen chopping vegetables while getting to meet others. Some parents like this project to work along with their teens, while they earn student service learning credits. We welcome teens ages 13-15 with an adult, older teens and adults.

Others like the idea of supporting Bethesda Cares’ social mission. Founded in 1988, Bethesda Cares was originally established as a lunch program to combat hunger in Montgomery County, providing meals to those living on the streets. Homeless men, women and children suffer from hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity every day. To help ensure the homeless in Montgomery County receive a warm and nutritious meal, Bethesda Cares serves lunch six days a week and dinner on Sundays to between 40-75 people that adds up 20,000 meals each year. Today, Bethesda Cares operates as a day drop-in shelter, serving hot meals daily, offering clothing and toiletries, outreach worker case management, referrals for supportive permanent housing, psychiatric counseling, prescription assistance, and eviction and utility assistance to county residents.

Still other people like to support family farmers and our local food system. Every year about 40 percent of good but uneaten food goes into the landfill—wasted along every part of the supply chain from farm to table. The idea for Farm to Freezer was born last January during a conversation I had with Sue Kirk, the executive director of Bethesda Cares.

“We are the official gleening organization of the Saturday Bethesda Fresh Farm Market, but we get many more vegetables than we can use in our meals before it goes bad,” explained Sue. A weekly donation just from one farm—Spiral Path organic farm has averaged almost 400 lbs. every week this summer, and we are not even at peak season yet! The organic produce that Spiral Path produces is just beautiful and it is a real crime to let it go to waste. Farmers get a tax deduction for their donation.

The spark of a Farm to Freezer project was born and six months later we are up and running thanks to generous support from community foundations, donated kitchens from partner churches, and in-kind donations from businesses including Whole Foods BethesdaZipcar, andHonest Tea. Even Compost Crew helps by donating their services to compost our food scraps.

Volunteers are key to the success of this whole project—we seek 10 volunteers for our weekly prep days. People can sign up via Bethesda Cares’ Meet Up site individually or as a group activity with friends, family or colleagues. With continued community support this project has the potential to grow into a self-sustaining enterprise, earning operating funds by selling tomato sauce and other preserved food at local farmers markets and even teaching food preparation classes. Fresh local food comes full circle—from farm, to freezer, to market, back to compost—benefiting our whole community along the way.

To volunteer, sign up on: Bethesda Cares MEET UP

To read more about this program and who it benefits, visit: Farm to Freezer website