Live United: Have extra produce? Consider sharing it with other families

Published 8:45 pm Friday, August 13, 2021

Live United by Erin Haag

From the time she could toddle around the yard, my daughter was gardening with her daddy. They grew carrots and corn and tomatoes and all kinds of things. Each year, they’d prep the garden and traipse on down to the Albert Lea Seed House to see what they could get that year. When she was a little older, she’d take the tractor power wheel and drive down to the garden, load up the back with produce and drive it back up to the house. We’d clean the produce and cook it up for supper and say, “mmm…we have Gracie beans tonight!”

Erin Haag

When she was 5, my daughter brought some tomatoes in and declared them to be Ethan tomatoes. At not quite 3 years old yet, Ethan wasn’t really planting things yet, so we asked her why they were Ethan tomatoes. Her reasoning was that the tomatoes were of the “Big Boy” variety and we called Ethan a big boy, so therefore they were Ethan tomatoes.

A board member shared on social media how happy he was to see an advertisement for the National Corn Grower’s Association during a major league ball game. He pointed out that when only 2% of the world’s population has ties to production agriculture, it’s easy to think that food only comes from Walmart. Living where we do, surrounded by hard-working farmers and agriculture industry, it’s hard to imagine that children wouldn’t know where food comes from. It’s true though. Many people think of the fair and think of the concerts, the rides and the food. For us, and many others, it’s to learn about animals, to expose our children to a way of life that even us — living in the country with a big garden and chickens — don’t have in our everyday life.

We have a wonderful resource in our state through a nonprofit called Foundation for Essential Needs — FFEN for short. Part of what FFEN does is a food source analysis for food shelves. These analysis shows how much produce a food shelf is providing — when they get it from Channel One.

This summer when I toured food shelves both locally and in other towns, I heard about the challenges with produce. Produce is available, but not as often as we’d like to see, and it can go bad quickly, leading to challenges when smaller food shelves are only open once a week without knowing the number of people they’ll serve. I learned while produce can often be the most expensive at a grocery store, for food shelves it’s usually free or very inexpensive to buy from food banks. The challenge lies in storing the produce and the quantity that you can order at a time.

There’s a solution here, and I’m not quite at it yet, but we’re circling around something. If my family can get 18 quarts of green beans canned this summer, surely as a community, we can figure out how to provide for our neighbors, too. While food shelves can’t take home canning products, any fresh produce, including eggs from chickens are allowed. Each food shelf has its own capacity and storage ability, so if you’d like to donate, please call ahead.

I have a little bit of a vision with Victory Gardens. I am almost positive I’ve written about it before, but this can be a reminder for us all. Let’s bring those back for our neighbors. Let’s forgo the standard can of soup we donate and bring in fresh eggs, tomatoes and corn. Let’s include recipes for how to use it and provide the tools to cook them if a family doesn’t have them.

There are a lot of possibilities with local farmers, the farmers market and our SHIP and WIC programs through the county. WIC is at the farmers market most weeks, providing vouchers for families to get fresh, healthy foods. SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Plan) sponsors the PoP program for kids to get $2 tokens in vouchers for food. My children were so proud of the carrots they brought home, since the ones in our garden didn’t grow this year. I’ll keep exploring the solutions offered in other communities, learning the capacity of our existing programs and the dreams of our existing program coordinators.

The third week of each month, UWFC delivers a food box to homebound seniors on the NAPS program. When we operated the Pop-Up Pantries, we’d pull aside boxes for those on our list, and call and ask if they wanted them. Most of them did, and each month Nikolle says she gets requests for, “if you happen to have any extra food…”.

This isn’t going to be a program UWFC operates right now. It’s a dream, and it’s on my list. However, I’m going to start the conversation here. Recently a neighbor offered to provide the seniors on our list with homegrown organic potatoes. On Monday, we’ll be calling our seniors to arrange the pickup time and we’ll ask if they’d like some potatoes.

So, if you happen to have a little extra produce on the third week of the month, I might be able to find a home for it. There will be times we will have to say we can’t accept the produce, depending on our time and ability, but let’s see where this goes. Monday would be the best day to drop it off in time for delivery on Tuesday mornings. Oh — and if you’d like to learn more about delivering food once a month, we’re still looking for volunteers. Feel free to give our office a call at 507-373-8670. Thanks for dreaming along with me and LIVING UNITED.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.