Summertime scene: Kids riding a hay wagon arrive at a farm field and spread out excitedly to pick sweet corn, okra, and tomatoes, under the careful supervision of Carrie Vaughn, Clagett Farm’s Vegetable Production Manager. She shows them how to pick the produce respectfully. They bring their prizes back to the wagon in bins and head to the farm’s washing station to clean them for transport to D.C.’s Capital Area Food Bank.
It’s no accident that most of these young people come from food-challenged families that receive produce through the Food Bank and its partner agencies. This scene is just one snapshot of From the Ground Up—a 20-year collaboration between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Clagett Farm and the Capital Area Food Bank that blends Bay-friendly, sustainable agriculture with social justice through environmental/nutrition education and enhanced availability of fresh produce for people living at or near-poverty levels in the Washington region.
The base “operating system” for From the Ground Up is Clagett Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, in which customers buy shares of the harvest beforehand and collect whatever is in season weekly, from salad greens in early May through winter squash in November. Regular customers pay a rate that covers enough program expenses to allow the farm to donate 40-50 percent of its annual production (around 35,000 pounds) to low-income people through the Food Bank.
Participants can pick up their shares either at an appointed place and time within the District or at the farm, which is only 14 miles east of the U.S. Capitol Building. In addition, the CSA offers Reduced-Price Shares and Workshares to low-income families, and an extensive group of volunteer weeders and pickers helps to keep the program’s operating costs low. The result is that people of all income levels in the Washington, D.C. region can receive top-quality vegetables and fruits from this local farm, while helping to support an extraordinarily effective and efficient food bank that speaks to the needs of people around our Nation’s Capital.
For its Fresh Produce Grant program, the Capital Area Food Bank carefully selects recipient member agencies food pantries, clinics, after-school programs, soup kitchens, and shelters with the organizational strength and the facilities to maintain the quality and efficiently distribute a broad range of produce to their clients. For 2012, there are nine participating agencies in the District, Suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia.
But the Fresh Produce Grants themselves are only the first step in the Food Bank’s approach to battling hunger. Another vital element for recipient member agencies is education. Remember those kids on the hay wagon? They are there because, as written on the Capital Area Food Bank's website: "...the Food Bank —and CBF —understands that food alone will not end hunger. The food bank couples food distribution with education and training in order to maximize the impact of that food.
The Capital Area Food Bank works with our partner agencies as well as low-income individuals directly to gain the skills and resources they need to be more self-reliant. The food bank offers a wide variety of educational programs. Some of these programs are in the form of classes and demonstrations, while others are structured as train-the-trainer in order to support community organizations and capitalize on the strong leaders in our local community."
The best testimony of the value of From the Ground Up, though, comes from those who receive the Fresh Produce Grants. This note from a lady in the District gives it eloquently: “I am submitting this letter to express my appreciation for the fruits and vegetables that I had the fortune to receive for the last six months. I cannot tell you the impact this has had on my life and health. I am a senior citizen on a fixed income, and I would not be able to afford the quality of produce I have received. I want to thank you very much and sincerely hope that the program can continue.”