A New Beginning

This autumn the familiar red building along the state highway served as a food processing base for the Farm to Food Pantry Collaborative

A New Beginning

Former farm stand used to process local produce for donation

The clang of pots, the scent of freshly steamed vegetables, sounds of cauliflower being chopped on cutting boards, and the light banter of volunteers as they bag broccoli florets.  

Erin O’Donnell, a volunteer for the Farm to Food Pantry Collaborative, prepares broccoli for donation.

This autumn the familiar red building along Route 209 in Hurley (formerly our farm stand) celebrates a new beginning. In September, the Farm to Food Pantry Collaborative began using the facility as a base for processing food that is being donated locally. 

“There is such wonderful energy and there’s a great mix of volunteers. All are so excited about the new space and being a part of something so positive, working together as a community to help feed our neighbors, and reduce food waste,” says Beth Albright, director of UlsterCorps and program director of volunteer services and food security at Family of Woodstock. 

The collaborative was launched in 2009 and is led by the Family of Woodstock Inc., the Rondout Valley Growers Association (RVGA) and UlsterCorps. All three organizations share a mission of combating food waste and food insecurity by working with area growers to bring locally grown produce to communities, and “expand the availability of more quality food in the winter,” says Michael Berg, executive director of Family of Woodstock Inc. 

“During the summer there are a lot of pantries, but in the winter finding really good quality food is really hard,” Berg says. 

Deborah DeWan, a volunteer, bags broccoli.

The collaborative continues to process at other kitchens and will continue to do so when the weather gets colder as the farm stand building was originally made for seasonal use and was therefore not winterized. The produce will be stored at various coolers and freezers in designated locations for winter distribution. The Farm Hub plans to fascilitate the collaborative’s use of the space again next year with the goal of starting earlier in the season. 

“Being able to process and use this facility is a tremendous resource to address this issue, and it feels like we’ve now taken on a fourth partner in the Farm Hub,” Berg says. 

As of October, the Farm to Food Pantry Collaborative distributed over 101,419  pounds of produce this season donated by 36 growers to 52 food pantries, shelters and community meal programs. In 2018 it distributed 102,727 pounds of produce to 49 pantries, shelters, and community meal programs locally. Some of the most popular vegetables are corn, broccoli, and tomatoes; tomato sauce, apple sauce, and roasted winter squash are also high on the list. Volunteers are a critical part of the program’s success with the program drawing some 300 over the past year.

 

Addressing a need

The genesis of the partnership started with the annual blueberry gleaning at the farm stand property, with Albright spearheading the volunteer efforts.

Through the gleaning initiative, Sarah Brannen, associate director of programs at the Farm Hub, came to know Albright and learned about the needs of the collaborative.

Beth McLendon Albright, director of UlsterCorps and program director of volunteer services at Family of Woodstock, works alongside the volunteers.

“They were processing and storing produce for winter distribution and it was really hard to find the space locally, and we had space at the former farm stand to offer,” says Brannen.

“We were always borrowing kitchens. It was always a question of `where are we going to go?’ We’d have to bring our stuff with us for processing, including knives and cutting boards,” Albright recalls. “There was a lot of schlepping.”

In 2018, in preparing the space for the collaborative, the Farm Hub started making improvements to the decades-old building, including buying a tilt skillet, upgrading the walk-in cooler, renovating existing restrooms, and creating a storage space for kitchen tools. “We are sharing this space and made these upgrades because this is a program and an organization whose work we deeply admire and is greatly needed in the community,” Brannen says. 

Albright continues: “This is like a dream for us to have a kitchen especially one with coolers,” says Albright, adding that the processing space “is centrally located and easily accessible to our volunteers who come from all across the county to help out,” says Albright. The location is also convenient for many of the growers who donate their produce. The arrangement will draw more volunteers, and also lead to increased food distribution during the winter months especially with growers who engage in year-round production, she forecasts.

Broccoli that was grown at the Farm Hub awaits to be donated locally.

All products that are processed at the former farm stand location are local farm products, with the majority coming from the Hudson Valley Farm Hub. Deborah DeWan, a volunteer who is a UlsterCorps board member, says it is heartwarming to see the latest development.

“It is exciting to see the Farm Hub connect to the community this way,” DeWan says. “The issues of food insecurity and waste have been something really important to me.” Equally as important to DeWan is connecting with other volunteers. 

“I really love meeting other volunteers and all of these people, and getting together with such joy and purpose,” she says.

 

–Amy Wu

For more information about volunteering contact Beth Albright at 845-481-0331 or email volunteers@fowinc.org