Photo above: High tunnel at Loma Farm, by Jeff Smith
This Thanksgiving weekend, we’re grateful for the innovative Farm2Neighbor program. It’s a collaboration among the Northwest Food Coalition, GoodwillNMI Food Rescue and Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities that provides fresh, healthy food grown by our region’s farmers to food-insecure neighbors and their families.
Each partner in the collaboration has a specific role. The Northwest Food Coalition (NFC) — a network of roughly 70 food pantries, baby pantries and meal sites in northwest Lower Michigan — uses donated funds to purchase locally grown and produced food for its members. Food Rescue provides the logistical support to collect, repack and distribute the food. Groundwork staff coordinates purchases, facilitates decision-making and builds relationships with farmers.
Of course, farmers have generously donated food to area food pantries for generations and continue to do so. What makes the Farm2Neighbor program exceptional is that it raises money for the Northwest Food Coalition to purchase food from farmers at a fair market value. This system strengthens the local food economy and increases the amount of healthy food available at food pantries.
This fall, the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in more than 50 years convened, setting forth a national strategy to increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030. The conference recognized that “when families can’t afford healthy food options, it’s harder for children to succeed in school, and it can lead to mental and physical health challenges for the whole family.”
Further, the conference stated “sourcing local foods can help increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, and other under consumed foods, improve attitudes about healthy eating, and support local economies.” Farm2Neighbor is the local program that does all this!
The program started in 2018 after visionary food security research and fundraising by Kris Thomas, a member of the NFC leadership team.
“At that time our pantry did not have a produce table,” said Dave Kroon, Food Pantry coordinator and chaplain for Good Samaritan Family Services. “Now, we have one, and it’s stocked all the time with local food from local farms.”
The program has grown with support from foundations, businesses and generous individual community donors, and “has changed the way food-insecure people view healthy food,” according to Tena Otto, coordinator of the Buckley Food Pantry. “Once folks hear that we offer local produce, they check it out with great interest. Produce now moves very quickly at our pantry, and it is a wonderful way to help improve the healthy diets of those in need.”
This collaborative program continues to serve neighbors in need every day, proving its effectiveness by providing a remarkable amount of nutritious food while investing in our local agricultural economy.
Please consider making a donation to the Farm2Neighbor program to support this work. Give by visiting the Northwest Food Coalition’s website at northwestmifoodcoalition.org/donate. Donated funds purchase high quality, nutritionally dense foods from local farms, which will be distributed to pantries and meal sites served by the Northwest Food Coalition. Thank you.
Christina Barkel, Food Equity Specialist
Mary Clulo, Chair, Northwest Food Coalition Operating Committee