Common Roots: Farmstand at the Food Shelf+ Program

2021 Grant Amount: $7,500

For over 13 years, Common Roots has focused on growing increasing volumes of certified organic food for folks facing food insecurity in South Burlington. Now, through our Farmstand at the Food Shelf + program, families and households can select nourishing foods grown and prepared year-round at our farm and licensed kitchen. Common Roots has nine acres in production, which includes two greenhouses and three high tunnels.

Our Farmstand at the Food Shelf + program sets up outside of the South Burlington Food Shelf each time it is open from May to Thanksgiving. From Thanksgiving through February or March, we provide produce from our walk-in cooler until our stock is depleted. We also prepare fresh foods from our licensed kitchen year-round.  Due to our increased production, a minimum of 5 cases go to Feeding Chittenden weekly.

Demand for fresh food at our local Food Shelf during the COVID-19 pandemic has more than tripled, from 120 families and households in 2019 to 410 in 2020, with new families and households applying almost every week. As the number of Food Shelf participants continues to rise, we are positioned to offer more than 8,000 lbs. of farm-fresh produce and nourishing foods prepared in our licensed kitchen and clay oven.

 

Full Balanced Meals Added Due to the Pandemic

Working with social workers, we have planned and expanded our outreach during the pandemic by also preparing nourishing meals for families facing the most challenging times. In 2020, between Thanksgiving and the New Year, we prepared 600 nutritious, locally prepared meals with partner chefs and other volunteers. The feedback from both social workers and the families was positive. In 2021-22, we will expand this work with local chefs to prepare 1,800 nourishing meals, an increase of 66%.

The stories of empowerment and promoting health over the past 13 years are a testament that most people want to be nourished, not merely fed.

 

Current Need

Although we have been growing organic food for 13 years for families in need who are identified by school social workers, Common Roots has never grown and processed this volume for the Food Shelf before or prepared this many house-made products or prepared 1,800 meals with partner chefs.

We made a huge leap in our production over the last 15 months to respond to the growing needs of our community. This rapid increase in program impact is why we are requesting this Seedling Grant. Your funds would be used in 2022 to support our Farmstand at the Food Shelf + program and, with easing COVID-19 restrictions, to bring back our education programs for participants of the Food Shelf outdoors on our farm (48 raised beds), to further their own food independence.  The morning chef, David, at Feeding Chittenden uses our triple washed produce for the to go meals he prepares daily.

 

Some quick facts about Common Roots and our collaborative partners:

  • We grow increasing volumes of certified organic food on our five-acre farm in South Burlington in tandem with the nonprofit South Village Stewardship board for 13 years and on the four-acre Underwood farm for six years.  We cover crop, rotate, add minerals and use minimum tillage to practice regenerative farming.
  • We enjoy a unique partnership with the City of South Burlington, which has leased us three city properties to enhance food education, food security, and wellness in our community. These include: four acres of the Underwood land, the Wheeler House, and the Wheeler Homestead in South Burlington. This land now includes the outdoor kitchen we built in 2020, with 12 community businesses and partnerships.
  • Our UVM internships have been an ongoing success (13 years). We have a staff member dedicated to recruitment, orientation, management, and support, as we provide rich learning opportunities for nearly 100 UVM students annually. Intern interest continues to increase from the Rubenstein School of Natural Resources, the School of Education, and the departments of Plant and Soil Science, Food Systems, Dietetics, Agriculture, and Public Administration.
  • We have forged, nurtured, and maintained a positive relationship with the South Burlington School District, where, for 13 years, we have provided programs (not on school budgets) for children in preschool through grade 8. We have taught over 140,000 individual lessons for school children.  Parents receive the overall concepts of our lessons and the recipes we have prepared with our students to taste test.
  • To fulfill our mission, we interface with the social workers in all five South Burlington schools, the South Burlington Land Trust, the City of South Burlington Natural Resource Committee, and the Stewardship Board of the Farm at South Village. All these partners contribute to our having the urban farm spaces of two farms, infrastructure, and relationships to grow increasing volumes of food for our Farmstand and products from our licensed kitchen.

 

Our two organic farms, Farmstand at South Village, licensed kitchen, and outdoor clay oven strengthen the local food system beyond the Farmstand at the Food Shelf + program:

  • The Common Roots Farmstand at South Village provides the most community access to fresh local produce in the state, according to our Farm Viability Planner from the Intervale.
  • We hold two organic certifications, NOFA and ROP (Real Organic Project), because we adhere to the top standards to ensure soil regeneration by using zero chemicals, remineralizing soils according to test results, and practicing cover cropping and field rotation to support a healthy soil biome.
  • We are one of 30 or 40 farms selected to support seed saving for the Abenaki Nation.

 

We are proud to serve new folks weekly through our Farmstand at the Food Shelf+ program. More than half of the people we meet have never needed a Food Shelf until now. Many families and households were already struggling to make ends meet when COVID-19 hit. Consequently, more families than ever come to our Common Roots Farmstand at the Food Shelf + to overcome food challenges.  Our fresh produce going to Feeding Chittenden is also further expanding in volume since last year.

In response, we increased our certified organic food production plan for 2021, providing a larger volume for families and households to select at the South Burlington Food Shelf. Last year, Common Roots brought more than 6,000 pounds of fresh organic produce, plant starts, and house-made quality foods to our Farmstand for participants to select. In 2021, as the number of Food Shelf participants continues to rise, we are positioned to offer more than 8,000 pounds (a 25% increase) of farm-fresh, certified organic produce as well as nourishing foods prepared in our licensed kitchen and clay oven. We bring fresh, triple-washed, properly packaged, and displayed produce and house-made products, and our caring volunteers get to know individuals. We have already prepared two sets of 300 meals with the guidance of social workers in our five schools. In total, we will provide 1,800 nourishing, fresh local meals with our chef partners to participants of the Food Shelf.

Our Farmstand at the South Burlington Food Shelf + program is unique. At some Food Shelves, participants have access to substandard fruits and veggies. In contrast, at our Farmstand at the Food Shelf, families and households can select from locally grown, certified organic foods that are on par with the finest produce sold at Farmers’ Markets and grocery stores in Vermont. Our program interfaces with the nonprofit South Burlington Food Shelf three times per week during the growing season and at least weekly year-round, as one of their three key partners. We provide 40+ varieties of veggies and herbs from May 1 through Thanksgiving. From Thanksgiving through February/March, we shift to weekly deliveries straight from our organic farm. Feeding Chittenden gets at least one weekly delivery.

There is also a strong educational component to our Farm Stand at the Food Shelf + program, providing learning to both Food Shelf participants and our many interns and volunteers. We offer information, recipes, and taste tests of foods prepared and packaged year-round in our licensed kitchen. We also invite participants to visit us on the farm, to learn more about the local food system and, if they choose, participate in food production. This promotes the health and wellbeing of families and children who are experiencing food insecurity, while recognizing their belonging and dignity through the high-quality foods and education that they can select from.  This was on hold during the pandemic and we are opening this component back up.

Supporting social justice through equal access to high-quality, nutritious foods for under-served communities is central to our mission. We recognize that racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to have lost their jobs and suffered medical impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic—and therefore more likely to rely on local Food Shelves to meet their food and nutritional needs. Research has demonstrated that the burden of household food insecurity is disproportionately high among racial and ethnic minority groups. Therefore, our efforts to supply our local Food Shelves with diverse, nutrient-rich, organic produce and hand-made food items helps to mitigate some of the effects of disproportionate economic fallout and ease burdens.

Additionally, some Food Shelf participants, particularly New Americans in our community, visit the South Burlington Food Shelf only to select from our Farmstand. They often prefer cooking their own recipes using our high-quality, fresh vegetables and herbs, which are familiar to them, rather than cooking pre-prepared food in boxes, bags, and jars.

To help promote education and food independence, we also cultivate “plant starts” in our propagation house, where we have increased production 25% — from 1,200 in 2020 to 1,500 in 2021-We also offer tips on gardening, a brochure with helpful graphics, and organic compost to enhance their success. When we have excess food or plants, we transport it to Feeding Chittenden, the county food shelf in Burlington, located about four miles away.

Finally, because we maintain relationships with 14 district social workers who meet with us twice per year, we are tapped into the changing needs of local families and children facing food insecurity. Social workers assist us in facilitating simple surveys and communicating the availability of our fresh, nourishing meals prepared mostly when children are not in school or at the end of the month, when social supports may be low. Their supportive feedback over the past 13 years has been crucial to our mission success, to both know and meet the changing needs of our community.