Farm fresh produce helps address need at Food Bank

As accountants know, numbers often tell the most compelling stories. When it comes to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, this couldn't be truer.

Today, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank services 63,000 Rhode Islanders a month from its 75,000-square-foot facility in Providence. 10 million pounds of food is transported from the warehouse to nearly 170 member agencies across the state and into the households of families and individuals struggling under the weight of a dismal economy.

If you take a close look, the statistics become even more gripping.  According to the Food Bank, one half of the people it serves are either younger than 18, or older than 65.  This troubling reality does not escape Andrew Schiff, Chief Executive Officer at the Food Bank. 

“These are populations that need to eat healthy food every day, three meals a day,” said Schiff.  “Nutrition is so important to these sectors.  That’s why we want to provide healthy food that can be prepared as a meal, not just snacks or junk food.”

Fortunately, the Food Bank has a generous and willing partner in a network of family and community farms across the state.  According to Schiff, the farms’ collective support has been nothing short of “remarkable.”  A staggering 20 percent of product distributed by the Food Bank these days is farm fresh food.

“Examples of generosity and kindness abound,” said Schiff.
He could not possibly name all of those who contribute, but when pressed for examples, he provided even more numbers.

“Young Family Farm in Little Compton donates 300,000 pounds of potatoes per year,” said Schiff.  “So many local farms have been incredibly helpful.  There are also dozens of volunteer-run community farms all over Rhode Island that harvest for us.  They donate up to 50,000 pounds of fresh produce each growing season to the Food Bank and our agencies.”

Schiff mentions the long-standing support from Franklin Farm in Cumberland.  He knows that this generosity is not a small feat.  It takes time and commitment – and a deeply rooted desire to help others.

“You have to be knowledgeable to grow food,” said Schiff.   “And grow food they do.  Good food – healthy food.  They grow zucchini, squash, peppers, and so much more.”
“The level of dedication and commitment we see is remarkable.  Farmers have always been generous to the Food Bank and the public’s recognition that fresh, locally grown food is healthier has been motivating people to donate that kind of food.”

There is evidence to suggest that this movement toward health, farm fresh food is here for the long haul. Leigia Landry, CPA, MST, a Senior Tax Manager at KLR in Providence, counts Matunuck Oyster Bar in South Kingstown among her clients. The movement toward farm fresh product, she said, is taking hold in the business community.

“There are several reasons that this trend has been beneficial to restaurants,” said Landry. “The first being that fresh, flavorful foods are fabulous when professionally prepared. Additionally, home purchase and preparation of farm fresh foods takes a substantial amount of time and effort that many people have difficulty sustaining on their own. Also, people who are making the effort to eat healthfully at home want to maintain their healthy diet when eating out.”

Landry sees this movement in its infancy with limitless potential for growth.

“Over the past few years, the National Restaurant Association’s research has shown growing public interest in locally sourced menu offerings,” she said.    

Back at the Food Bank, seeing this movement gather momentum is a welcome proposition. After all, the sobering part of the story remains defined by numbers.  Just ask Christine Cannata, the Food Bank’s CFO and member of RISCPA.  “The people served by the Food Bank are the ‘poorest of the poor’ and their numbers are growing,” said Cannata.  “The Food Bank now serves twice as many people as it did less than a decade ago.”

Even under these circumstances, the Food Bank is starting to receive the kind of food it truly needs.  Many of the people who turn to the Food Bank for assistance are often in poor health or have a family member who is in poor health.  Making farm fresh produce available to them is imperative. 

To learn more about community farms, visit www.rifoodbank.org/farms.  For information on the Food Bank’s “Community Cooking: Wholesome Eating on a Budget” program which emphasizes a plant-based diet that is both highly nutritious and affordable, visit:  www.rifoodbank.org/communitycooking.