Center for an Agricultural Economy: Produce to Pantries

2023 Update:

2022 Grant Amount: $3,420

Produce to Pantries (P2P) is a partnership between the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE), the Hardwick Area Food Pantry (HAFP), and local farms. This project increases the availability of locally grown, high-quality produce at area food pantries by bringing additional buying capacity to pantries and building relationships with small, local farms. Having participated in the USDA Farmers to Families food box program in 2020, CAE realized that we could leverage our existing relationships with area farmers and create a more localized and flexible program than what was offered through the USDA, and meet a need that persisted well before the pandemic. Through P2P, CAE facilitates an increase in the pantries’ purchasing power by providing grant support and handling much of the logistics, communications, and administration of produce purchases - aspects for which the pantries don’t typically have capacity. The farmers are guaranteed a purchase, and then deliver their product to the pantries directly, or are supported by CAE’s delivery service, Farm Connex.

Having just completed its pilot year, Produce to Pantries has been a huge success on all levels. The pantries have seen an increase in the quality and diversity of what they are able to offer, the farmers have reported a desire to continue participation in the project - many connecting their desire to farm to their desire to help their community. In addition, pantry shoppers have remarked not only upon the quality and diversity of produce availability but also on the benefit of increased agency and inclusion through participation in the local food system. P2P provides summer funds to participating pantries for flexible summer produce purchases, the need for which can be wildly unpredictable based on seasonal donations from local farms and gardens. For the fall and winter seasons, CAE coordinates with pantries and local farms to plan weekly storage crop orders and logistics.

The future of the program looks very promising. In its pilot year, the program worked with the three pantry sites of the Hardwick Area Food Pantry (Hardwick, Craftsbury & Albany), purchasing nearly 30,000 lbs of local produce from 13 different farms that was distributed weekly at each site. In 2023 we hope to expand the number of participating pantries, and correspondingly the number of local farms supplying produce. We have had initial conversations with Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk - Abenaki Nation to make the Holland Food Shelf in Derby a potential new partner of the program for distribution in that community. We have also consciously decided to pursue contracts with farms growing less than 5 acres of produce and which are led by new, young, or non-white farmers, in acknowledgment of the systemic opportunities available to many larger, more established, or white-owned operations.

Produce to Pantries strengthens the local food system by addressing three different areas:

  1. The purchase of produce from local farmers (averaging less than 20 miles away from the pantries they serve) puts money directly into the local economy, boosting revenue for participating farms and in some cases helping them grow additional rows or test a wholesale model.
  2. The pantries are able to offer their clients high-quality, locally grown food, ensuring both accessible nutrition and high-quality produce to the community. Pantries also have agency in selecting the crops that are sourced, making sure they are culturally relevant to participating communities.
  3. By partnering with area pantries, we can invite community members who identify as food insecure, and are often at the intersection of other systemically oppressed populations, to participate and feel agency in their local food system.

As the program looks to expand the number of partner pantries, as well as prioritizing smaller, less established farms, it will not only meet an important need (getting food to the places and people who need it) but also will create connections necessary for the long-term survival of small, rural farms in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, where market access can be an obstacle. The flexibility of the program allows changes to be made as needs are identified, as evidenced by the inclusion of a farm growing beans to address the lack of culturally appropriate food for the farmworker community whose members often come from Mexico and Latin America.