Food Pantry Friday

Share Button

“If we all donate a little bit, it can make a big difference in the lives of others.”

Guest blog post by Jackie Tona, Case Worker at Ruth’s Place – Volunteers of America of Pennsylvania located in Wilkes-Barre, PA


Most of us know if one eats well one does well. In my time here at Ruth’s Place, a Program of Volunteers of America, I’ve found that many people in the community are very giving of food donations. We have local bakeries who donate breads and pastries and also volunteers in the community who come in and make dinners for the women residing in the shelter. At any given time, you can look in our food pantry and find canned anything; pastas, cereals and anything else that has a shelf life of a few years. One thing that isn’t commonly found is fresh produce.

donation4

Fresh produce donation photo by Jenny Rottinger

Most people know that eating more fruits and vegetables will give you more energy and make you feel better, but most times at the shelter we don’t have access to produce. Lately, there has been a push with some local produce being donated from Fertile Grounds CSA and through gardeners finding us via AmpleHarvest.org. The women in the shelter are very excited and grateful to have access to fresh food to prepare and eat.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fertile Grounds CSA, it is a local organic vegetable farm where people can pay an annual fee and receive a weekly box of fresh grown produce. Fertile Grounds has been extremely giving by donating to not only Ruth’s Place, but to many other programs in the area.

Screen shot 2014-06-20 at 12.22.30 PM

My point? If you have extra produce that may just sit in your fridge or on your counter that will turn black and go bad, why not donate it to some people in the community that would appreciate and enjoy the food? I know that I buy produce and have had many weeks where I throw it out because it has gone bad before I eat it, but I won’t do that anymore. There are too many people less fortunate who aren’t getting the access to healthy foods, which are shown to improve mood and fight disease! If we all donate a little bit, it can make a big difference in the lives of others.


If you would like to be featured in a Food Pantry Friday post, please contact Leanne Mazurick, Food Pantry Outreach Coordinator at Leanne@AmpleHarvest.org

7,000th Food Pantry on AmpleHarvest.org

Share Button

The 7,000th Food Pantry has Registered at AmpleHarvest.org!

Copy of shutterstock_184907459NANA’s House in Mastic NY recently registered itself at AmpleHarvest.org and joined the
previously registered 6,999 pantries, further expanding access to fresh food for their clients.

According to Wendy Falanga of NANA’s House, “Fresh produce donations are so important to our organization, especially since we provide food and services to children. Most of the time we receive canned goods and other non-perishable items, which are appreciated, but do not offer as much nutrition as fresh vegetables. Receiving fresh produce donations would help us offer more nutritious options to the children we serve, so we are excited to be a part of AmpleHarvest.org and hope the community will share their extra produce with us!”

The historic inability to donate fresh food to a community food program has contributed to
America’s huge food waste problem while also forcing nearby food programs to only offer
processed food. Every food program that registers at AmpleHarvest.org is another point on the map that growers can find and support – for the rest of their gardening life.

To register your food pantry visit AmpleHarvest.org/register. Or to find a pantry to donate your extra garden bounty, visit AmpleHarvest.org/findpantry

Extension Master Gardeners

Share Button

As the Grower Outreach Coordinator for AmpleHarvest.org I have the privilege of communicating with farmers and gardeners from all over the United States. Through our social media sites–especially Instagram–I get to see what folks are growing, celebrate their bountiful harvests, and commiserate with them when something destroys their precious pumpkins (the squash vine borer was particularly brutal this year, apparently).  Gardeners like to talk, and brag, and ask for help, and advise. It’s a beautiful thing. But, I’m always surprised by how few people are aware of one of the greatest FREE gardening resources available: the Extension Master Gardeners.

EMG logoPicture a league of 95,000 garden experts who have been trained on things like taxonomy, plant pathology, soil health, entomology, sustainable gardening, and integrated pest management for their own specific growing region and zone. Not only are they highly trained garden experts, but as a condition of the training they have received from the county agricultural extension office, they are required to donate dozens of hours of community service through which they share their gardening know-how.  That right, there are people who live right in your neighborhood that probably have answers to all of your gardening questions, and they are ready to help!

Many of the county extension offices will have an Extension Master Gardener on-call. You just call up the hotline and ask your question. (Our founder and Executive Director, Gary Oppenheimer, is an EMG in New Jersey and he spent some of his volunteer hours on the garden hotline there!).

You can find your county extension office and Extension Master Gardener Program by searching here.  They exist to serve. This is a volunteer program and we should all be taking advantage of this wealth of knowledge! (Check out the EMG blog at: http://blogs.extension.org/mastergardener)

The other thing we LOVE about the EMGs is that thousands upon thousands of them are using their knowledge to help feed the hungry in their community. According to a 2009 EMG Survey, nearly 700,000 pounds of produce has been donated to local food banks due to the work of EMGs across the country.

Copy of shutterstock_57802567

Here’s what we’d love to see: We’d love to see ALL 95,000 EMGs growing and donating food to a food pantry found at AmpleHarvest.org/findpantry. We’d love to see YOU have the best garden you’ve ever had by utilizing the help of these amazing volunteers. And we’d love your help to spread the word about this amazing program by sharing this blog post with your gardening friends.

With your help and the help of the Extension Master Gardeners nation-wide, we can reduce hunger and malnutrition in every community in the United States! Happy Gardening, everyone!

 

Farmer Feature: Veggies For All -AmpleHarvest.org

Share Button

Farmer Feature: Veggies For All, a project of the Maine Farmland Trust. Interview of with Sara Trunzo.

As part of out continuing Farmer Feature Series, today we’re featuring an incredible program in Maine called Veggies For All which is project of the Maine Farmland Trust. Veggies for All (VFA) is a food bank farm that works to relieve hunger by growing vegetables for those in need, while collaborating with partners to distribute and increase access to quality and nutritious food. Read our interview of Sara Trunzo, the Director of Veggies For All, and be inspired by the creative and innovative strategies they are using to reduce hunger and malnutrition in their community.  

VeggiesForAll3AmpleHarvest.org: Who came up with the idea of Veggies for All and how did it get started?

Sara Trunzo: Veggies For All (VFA) was started in 2007 by a few beginning farmers in the Unity, Maine area.  Along with a desire to hone their agricultural skills, they recognized the great potential for local agriculture to relieve hunger in our region.  Our current farm manager, Tim Libby, was one of those founders.  I was doing real similar work from the perspective of Unity College’s sustainability department and was helping the local food pantry develop education and outreach resources.  We joined forces in late 2009. Since then we’ve grown and distributed over 75,000 pounds of vegetables to our neighbors in need.

AmpleHarvest.org: How much land are you growing on and what are you growing?

Sara Trunzo: This year we are stewarding about 4 acres of vegetables.  Some of that acreage is located on Unity College’s campus and some is around our town on private land which members of the community have given us access to at no cost.  They are all thrilled to put their property to use for this purpose.  We always focus on traditional New England, Fall hardy crops, including: winter squash, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, and onions.  We choose these items based on their accessibility to clients (i.e. they are recognizable, common, and easy to use), their ability to store well into winter, their sturdy ability to withstand handling by volunteers in food pantries, AND their schedule that caters toward the availability of our volunteers.

We grow a handful of miscellaneous crops, too, for use in a summer veggie share we provide a daycare center, to support fundraising, for our food pantry volunteers to blanch and freeze in their kitchen.  This year, in an unexpected twist due to a generous donation of materials, we are cultivating a half-acre each of beets and sweet peppers.

VeggiesForAll2AmpleHarvest.org: Who is doing the farming? Are they volunteers? What motivates them to keep working and serving others?

Sara Trunzo: We are big believers in the idea that farming is a profession.  We love working with gardeners and hobby farmers to get produce donated to the food pantry- but VFA has been successful, productive, and improved our soils because we hire a trained veggie grower to fill the farm management role.

We also use TONS of volunteers.  We’ve had hundreds of people join us in literally thousands of volunteer hours since 2009.  We have a couple superstar vols (you know who you are!) who give us weekly field-work support: an energetic retiree, a mom and community organizer, an agriculture student.

Our largest and most consistent stream of volunteers is from Unity College.  An environmental college with a strong community-orientation, the students are excited to get out in the field and get their hands dirty.  We could not pull off our large transplanting and harvesting demands without them.

VeggiesForAll4AmpleHarvest.org: Where is the food going?

Sara Trunzo: Our veggies go to a large (for our neck of the woods) food pantry, the Volunteer Regional Food Pantry (VRFP), which serves about 800 people in the greater Unity area.  The VRFP acts as a distribution hub for 9 smaller pantries in central Maine through the mid-Maine food pantry coalition.  We reach a total of 1,500 people through this collaborative distribution effort.

AmpleHarvest.org: How do you think the work of VFA has helped the community it serves?

Sara Trunzo: We know that getting more healthy food into our neighbors’ kitchens helps them make ends meet, nourish their families, and feel supported.  Beyond that- we’ve been aggressive about getting the issue of rural hunger into more conversations and on more people’s minds.  We work in a community that prides itself on gorgeous farmland, entrepreneurial farmers, and opportunities in food.  But like most rural communities with facing poverty- someone may live next to a vibrant farm, but not be able afford to buy healthy food from that farmer.  It’s bad for the farmer, who needs clients, and bad for the consumer, who needs access to better food- and it’s the result of a broken and unjust food system.  Great efforts are being made to develop win-win pathways between farms and consumers- but in the mean time we meet the immediate need for veggies in the homes of the food insecure.  We also hope that this helps those consumers develop a taste for local, seasonal produce so they are primed to become farm customer in the future should they choose to be.

VeggiesForAll1AmpleHarvest.org: What are you hopes for the future of VFA?

Sara Trunzo: Locally, we’d love to get better at data collection, analysis, and assessment to strategically increase our impact.  We’ve got a lot of good community support and momentum, but if we are able to apply that to key leverage points and pull resources toward key actions- we believe we could measurably increase the health and food security of our community.  We also hope optimize our operation by acquiring some key infrastructure and equipment- a farm truck, compost spreader and tractor tool bar- mounted cultivation tools, for example.

As of March 2014, VFA became part of Maine Farmland Trust (MFT).  MFT works to protect farmland, and to keep farming in Maine viable and vital.  Because we are now part of a statewide organization, it is a great opportunity to bring our food bank farming model to other rural communities that have similar needs and assets.  My hope is that, in addition to putting good food into the emergency food system, future food bank farms will also provide solid, career-building positions for beginning farmers so they can develop their farm management and customer service skills. We think the model can work in any rural community that has good land, excitement for agriculture, and supportive community partners.

AmpleHarvest.org: How does AmpleHarvest.org play a roll to help?

Sara Trunzo: AmpleHarvest.org is a great tool for outreach, as well as, on-the-ground coordination of getting better food to hungry people.  You all have both elevated the discourse about hunger and changed the conversation in an important way: The food pantry-finder empowers anyone who is frustrated by food insecurity to pitch-in immediately in his or her own community by making a personal connection.  It is a great people connector! We hope that gardeners and farmers who are inspired by the work of Veggies For All and similar initiatives, will use the pantry finder to make a connection with their local hunger relief organizations.

VeggiesForAllSaraTrunzo

Sara Trunzo, Director of Veggies for All

About Sara Trunzo:

Sara is a member of Maine Farmland Trust’s Farm Viability staff and the Director of Veggies For All. Sara has experience in sustainable agriculture education, community organizing, and has provided leadership to numerous groups working on food system and hunger relief issues. Sara is vice-chair of the Volunteer Regional Food Pantry, president of the Waldo County Cooperative Extension executive committee, advisor to the Maine Community Foundation’s Waldo County Fund, member of the Maine Food Strategy steering committee, and board member for Unity Barn Raisers. She is an active participant in the Town of Unity’s comprehensive planning process, co-hosts and produces the public affairs program Mid-Coast Currents on WERU Community Radio, and is an Environmental Leadership Program senior fellow. Sara’s focus is on healing hunger in the context of fixing the food system, especially for rural citizens. A Jersey girl by birth and a rural resident by choice- she loves good food, bad country music, big earrings, small farms.

 

SNAP Challenge Conclusion

Share Button

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at AmpleHarvest.org. She's taking Feeding America's SNAP Challenge as part of Hunger Action Month. This is the 3rd post in the series.

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at AmpleHarvest.org. She’s taking Feeding America’s SNAP Challenge as part of Hunger Action Month. This is the 5th and final post in the series.

Each week, the Feeding America food bank network serves 5.4 million individuals. More than half of the households served report at least one person employed during the last year, according to the Hunger in America 2014 report. This is unacceptable.

Whether they’re stretching a tiny budget (sometimes choosing between food or medicine) or relying on the assistance of SNAP Benefits, families are not able to get enough food. They are seeking out a food pantry to pick up some essential items to get them through the week.  The Feeding America network of over 200 food banks spreads across the US. They help provide food to the tens of thousands of food pantries in local neighborhoods where it is then distributed to hungry families.  It’s an incredible feat of logistics–gathering, purchasing, storing and distributing food day after day–and one might say it’s really the backbone of the charitable food distribution system in this county.

This week while feeding my family during the SNAP Challenge, I thought about all of the agencies and individuals who are working tirelessly to help hungry families make ends meet–thankful for all they are doing. But, while the essential safety net of the food bank system does an incredible job, it’s just not enough. AmpleHarvest.org works closely with Feeding America food banks across the country.  We work alongside to fill in the gaps, helping food pantries to secure fresh food donations in addition to the non-perishable food provided by the food banks.

SNAP3picThe first casualty of my family’s $4.50 per person per day budget on the SNAP Challenge was fresh produce.  We chose items that were going to fill us up not necessarily the foods that would nourish us the best. It took a toll. Our moods, our energy, and our spirits weren’t fed by the fresh, local, and often organic food we are normally blessed to consume. I craved it. If we were one of the millions of families that actually relied on SNAP benefits (not just in a challenge) we would have gone from pantry to pantry looking for something fresh…something that came from the ground and not the factory.

That’s why I’m thankful for AmpleHarvest.org and why I feel fortunate to be working for this amazing organization.  We help get fresh food to food pantries by encouraging gardeners to share the extra fruits and veggies they grow with a food pantry near them.  People love gardening as a source of family or community togetherness, as a way to get outside and get exercise, as a way of beautifying their surroundings, and to have home grown veggies on the table.  And there are LOTS of people doing it.  More than 40 million, in fact, according to a National Gardening Association report.  So, if all these millions of people are growing food, there’s bound to be extra. But many don’t know that they can share it.  When a gardener has extra food to share, they can search for a food pantry near them at AmpleHarvest.org/findpantry and then take their veggies to the pantry where they will be given away to hungry families.

AmpleHarvest.org helps gardeners feed their community.  It’s not just helping people get fed, but it’s providing nourishing food to help fight diet-related illnesses.  When you donate fresh vegetables a local food pantry, you’re providing an incredible gift to hungry moms and dads who desperately want to feed their kids healthy food, but can’t otherwise afford it.

Join the garden-to-pantry movement. Use your garden to end hunger in your community.

Pledge-A-Veg today at www.AmpleHarvest.org/blog/pledge_a_veg

Screen shot 2014-09-03 at 10.05.41 AM

Food Waste – A Missed Opportunity Part 2

Share Button

Food Waste – A Missed Opportunity – Part II

Gary Oppenheimer is the Founder and Executive Director of AmpleHarvestorg

Gary Oppenheimer is the Founder and Executive Director of AmpleHarvest.org

Note: you can read Part I of this topic here.

“Finish what’s on your plate – kids are starving in Europe.” That’s what I heard over and over again as a child, it’s what helped inspire the creation of AmpleHarvest.org, and it’s how I started my TED Talk.

Now decades later, though we’ve largely eliminated polio and small pox, we are still talking about “kids starving in [pick any continent other than Antarctica]”.

Hunger remains as a staggeringly large problem.   So is the waste of food.

See the irony there? We did.

Earlier this year, the United Nation’s “Zero Hunger Challenge” invited AmpleHarvest.org to join the ranks of other local and global organizations working to end hunger. This program, inspired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, is working to eradicate hunger by asking both non-profits/NGO’s as well as individuals to make a commitment towards that end.

The goal is to reduce global hunger to zero in our lifetimes—to have:

  • zero stunted children in less than 2 years;
  • 100% access to adequate food all year round;
  • all food systems be sustainable;
  • 100% increase in smallholder productivity and income;
  • zero loss or waste of food.

UN Headquarters

The United Nations complex

This past week, the UN General Assembly met in New York City. As part of the special meetings taking place around the General Assembly, AmpleHarvest.org was invited by the Zero Hunger Challenge folks to attend “Delivering Zero Hunger”.  I was also invited to another event hosted by the UN Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group along with another organization, The RBM Partnership. Speakers included UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon himself, Ted Turner, the Prime Minister of the Norway, the President of Rwanda, and others.

The Delivering Zero Hunger meeting, which took place in what had once been the Security Council, was an excellent opportunity for those of us who are working to address food issues to exchange ideas and discuss “next steps”.  Included among the speakers was the Prime Minster of the Netherlands along with other government and UN officials.Meeting

There was a great deal of enthusiasm for the work that has been done, and the hope for strategic partnerships in the future to end hunger across the globe. Many spoke about supporting local agricultural system, empowering women and children, promoting peace, and reducing poverty levels to help make it happen. With representatives from all over the world, we produced a world of ideas! All great stuff.

ZH Pledge

At the end of the session, we all signed the Zero Hunger Pledge.

While reducing global food waste to zero is one of the goals of the Zero Hunger Challenge which you can read more about here, unfortunately, no one addressed the issue during our meeting. I brought this up later with the Executive Director of the World Food Programme who said that it had been on her list of items but time constraints pushed it aside.

With only 2 hours to convene, it is hard to cover everything, but I believe food waste is the low-hanging fruit in the equation. A world of expertise and passion assembled in one place to discuss hunger but never touched on a ready solution. That was a missed opportunity.

I been involved in boating since 1978 and if you have any experience on the water, you know that if you start to sink, finding and hopefully plugging the hole in the hull is your *first* (ok… maybe second after putting on your flotation device) action – even before pumping out the water.   Do it the other way around and you’ll continue to pump water but you won’t solve the problem. Eventually, you exhaust yourself. Then you sink.

The world loses a staggering amount of food every year. Just here in America, the USDA reported in early 2014 that more than 30% of our food is never consumed – something that cost us $161 Billion in 2010. Imagine the cost on a global scale.

Our growing population will need more and more food. But until we plug the leak in our food distribution networks, all of the best hopes and efforts will simply be bailing out water while more pours in.

If you want to do your part to end hunger, make a commitment to do so. But start by eliminating food waste. You can do it in your home and AmpleHarvest.org can help you do it from your garden.

Plug the hole first.   Things will get a lot easier after that.

SNAP Challenge: Part 4

Share Button

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at AmpleHarvest.org. She's taking Feeding America's SNAP Challenge as part of Hunger Action Month. This is the 4th post in the series.

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at AmpleHarvest.org. She’s taking Feeding America’s SNAP Challenge as part of Hunger Action Month. This is the 4th post in the series.

How do you explain to your child that even though they are very hungry, there’s nothing for them to eat? This a reality faced by millions of Americans. I’m very lucky that it is not my reality. But, after spending the last 5 days taking Feeding America’s SNAP Challenge with my family, I can more easily imagine what it must be like (on a seriously small and almost incomparable level, I know).

My son is four years old. As you may recall from my very first post about the SNAP Challenge, he is a big eater. He’s very active, very smart, tall for his age, and there’s not an ounce of fat on him.  AND HE EATS LIKE A GROWN MAN.  Suddenly, this week he wasn’t a free-range-eating kid. We had a certain number of snacks on our budget of $4.50 a person per day and we had to keep our very hungry caterpillar on a plan.  Keep in mind that when my kid (like many other kids) gets hungry it’s not just a bellyache for him, it can become something very ugly fast.  Suddenly he’ll be super angry or super emotional, or super tired and we’re wondering what’s going on with our normally very loving and active little guy. Like the popular candy bar commercials say, you’re not yourself when you’re hungry. We give him some food and he bounces right back.  But what about when there’s no food to give? Seeing him like that day after day would kill me.

dried fruit

This single snack of freeze-dried fruit costs $1 plus tax–almost as much as we had to create one entire meal for our son.

I tried to talk with him about what was going to happen this week. I wanted him to understand that we were very lucky to have so much food, and that lots of people don’t have as much as we do. I wanted him to understand that his favorite snack pouches of freeze-dried fruit would use up all of the money we had for one of his entire meals so we weren’t going to buy them. ONE SNACK costs as much as we had to buy ONE MEAL. I wanted to warn him that his lunches were going to look different—no more expensive individually wrapped/packaged items, etc. But, trying to sit down and have a conversation with a four year old is like trying to talk your dog through the process of making meatloaf.  They kind of tilt their head to the side like you are speaking a different language and 99% of what you say is completely ignored.

When it’s not your reality, it can be hard to understand—even for adults. After my recent posts about this challenge, I had people asking for more information. If you’re not using SNAP you might have never heard about it. I found myself explaining it a lot this week, not just to my little man. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits used to be called “food stamps”. It’s a program of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, and it provides Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (money to buy food) to very low-income individuals and families. It can only be used to buy food…no alcohol, no cigarettes. Just food (and also vegetable seeds and seedlings as I mentioned previously). The program is meant to help the hungriest families, but there are pretty strict requirements to qualify which you can read about here. I knew my son wasn’t going to get all of this, so we mostly stuck with the message that a lot of people don’t have enough money to buy food and they are hungry most of the time. We are going to see what that’s like and that means we’re going to have different food for a few days. Okay whatever, mom.

The truth is, we were never actually going let our little guy go hungry. We still had plenty of other snacks in the pantry that we bought before the challenge that we let him eat occasionally. We did our best to keep him eating the snacks we bought for the challenge, but seeing his preferred snacks on the shelves made it hard. Why can’t I have that cereal? I want the good snacks, mom! If he had been at the store with me while shopping for the challenge I think my heart would have broken. He actually likes and prefers certain healthy snacks over others, but I would have had to tell him no. Of course, he probably would have loved it if I bought a bunch of junk food (which really is the cheapest), but I still had a choice and I wasn’t going to do that.

emmett's lunch

This is what we started sending to school with our son. It’s not much different from what he normally gets, but we bought the raisins and applesauce in large containers rather than single serving sizes. We also switched from the pricey round sandwich bread to a cheaper sliced loaf for his PB&J.

He did pretty well this week. He got used to his new lunches, he grew to like some of the cheaper snacks, and he even told us he didn’t want a banana in his lunch anymore because it was just too much food. (Jaw drops) It turns out he’s been throwing it away everyday and we didn’t know. I like to think that maybe this challenged has helped him realize there’s a cost to food. That throwing perfectly good food in the garbage is a terrible waste. Or, maybe he just decided he doesn’t like bananas any more. Who knows with this guy?  We stopped sending the bananas to school and he still seems happy. I’m just glad I don’t have to do this every day of my life. We are unbelievably and undeniably privileged when it comes to the food we eat, and I hope we never forget that. I can’t wait to see his face when he gets to have the first dried fruit snack when we finish this challenge tomorrow!

 

SNAP Challenge: Part 3

Share Button

SNAP Challenge: Part 3

The shopping is done, the company is gone, and so a week of eating on $4.50 a person per day has begun.  If we don’t have what we need to make it 5 days straight then we’re not going to have it. The money is all spent.  Well, almost. I still have about $5 left.  Not enough to go out to eat but if we need to we can make one more trip to the store…probably for snacks.

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at AmpleHarvest.org. She's taking Feeding America's SNAP Challenge as part of Hunger Action Month. This is the 3rd post in the series.

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at AmpleHarvest.org. She’s taking Feeding America’s SNAP Challenge as part of Hunger Action Month. This is the 3rd post in the series.

Round two of grocery shopping was illuminating.  This time the store was packed. The lines at the check out were so long that folks who were still shopping couldn’t get through the front of the store for all of the cart traffic. I waited for a long time. A woman two carts in front of me was checking out and it seemed to be taking forever. I think she must have grabbed everything she wanted to buy and was having the cashier total it for her as she went so she wouldn’t go over a set amount. There was a lot of back and forth, “no, take that off, try this” and so on.  I was getting impatient. I found myself getting irritated with the woman. Why couldn’t she just figure this out beforehand? But, I’ve never had to do that–really worry about going over budget at the checkout.

After shopping for this challenge I can imagine how hard it might be. Several items on my list weren’t clearly priced.  I couldn’t find ONE scale in the produce section to weigh my items to figure out how much they were going to cost.  There were special bargain tags on a few items, but I wasn’t sure if they were still applicable. Even though I tried my best to calculate the total as I dropped things in the basket, I still wasn’t sure how much it would be until the cashier finished ringing it up.  In my case, however, if I went over it was no big deal. Maybe I won’t use it for the SNAP Challenge, but I’ll eat it later.

SNAP1pic

It was hard to figure out the prices of things I wanted to buy. The shelves were all mixed up and the tags were confusing making it hard to figure out what I could afford.

I could tell the woman was embarrassed and she probably felt the collective impatience of all of us bearing down on her.  I wonder if she could tell that most everyone in line, including me, was kind of judging her every move. I found myself telling her (in my head) not to go for that pricey pre-packaged, individual-servings item. It wasn’t healthy and it cost way too much for what it was. I was totally judging her and feeling superior for all that I was getting with my remaining $40 or so. What is wrong with me? Why was I being such a jerk?  It’s easy to stand aside and criticize others for their food choices, but think about all that she was going up against.

She was probably trying to get something she knew her kids would like (I know how hard it is to find a balance with little hungry monsters). She probably wanted something that didn’t take a lot of time and effort to cook or prepare; something that seemed inexpensive; something that seemed healthy. The advertisements on the packaging sure made it seem like it was the greatest single food item in all the world.  It would be filling, and it wouldn’t go bad. That’s the best that I could say for it.  Unfortunately, such is life for many families relying on SNAP benefits. Buying fresh is not an easy choice, nor is it often the most economical when you just don’t want your family to feel hungry.

DSC_0207

This is everything I got with my total budget of $67.50. SNAP benefits equal about $4.50 a person per day, and we’re taking the challenge for 5 days.

My plan was to finish the shopping then use my extra cash at the farmers market. Well, it turns out I didn’t really have much extra cash. And, unfortunately, there was not much at the farmers’ market that would have been cheaper than the store. So most of my fresh produce for the week came from the grocery. I bought that bag of carrots for 79 cents, some broccoli for $2.49, a bag of apples for $3.49, a bunch of kale for 99 cents, 6 bananas for $1.23, one onion for $1.03, one garlic for 29 cents, and a bag of grapes for $4.58. I did save $2.50 of my money to buy big bag of salad greens at the farmers’ market. (They are usually $5, but if these were real SNAP dollars, they would be doubled.) The bag is equivalent to about two of the plastic boxes of salad greens that you buy at the store so this was a pretty great deal. We’ll be having salad with dinner, hallelujah!

SNAP1Veggies

Here’s a bunch of tomatoes and eggplants from my garden that I’m going to be using this week. SNAP benefits can be used to purchase seeds and seedlings if they are sold by a SNAP retailer. One packet of seeds can go a long way…if you have the space, the time, the water, sun, soil, and patience. It’s not going to be a solution for everyone but it’s a great resource that most people don’t know about.

These fresh food items are nice to have, and the double value SNAP coupons for the farmers’ market are awesome, but the most amazing deal of all is a packet of seeds. Several months ago I spent one dollar on a packet of tomato seeds. Using only a small portion of the seeds in that packet, I grew about 8 tomato plants which have provided us with lots of tomatoes for salads, sandwiches, and sauces.  It is a little known fact that SNAP dollars can be used to purchase seeds and seedlings if they are sold at a SNAP retailer. Seed packs at the Kroger where I shop were $1 so, I’m deducting that from my total SNAP budget, and I’m going to eat a lot of tomatoes this week as part of the challenge.

DSC_0199

Grilled cheese, salad, and tomato soup for dinner. That is a sad looking salad.

Now to the eating (usually my favorite part).  We had tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches and a small, plain salad for dinner.  Breakfast was a very bland bowl of oatmeal with raisins. I can tell already that this is going to take some getting used to. I’m not a big fan of salads in the first place so I like to dress them up with nuts, cheese, vegetables, and lots of dressing. (Dang it I forgot to buy dressing!).  One day in and I’ve already used some items that are off limits–oil and vinegar for the salad, and honey for the oatmeal. All three of these seemingly innocent condiments would have eaten up a big chunk of my budget. Can we just pretend that I bought them last month with my SNAP dollars? Don’t judge me. Plain oatmeal is gross.

DSC_0219

At least I had coffee!

Next time on the blog, hear from my four-year-old snack-monster about what he thinks of this whole idea. Here’s a hint: he does not like it.

SNAP Challenge: Part 2

Share Button

SNAP Challenge: Part 2

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at AmpleHarvest.org

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at AmpleHarvest.org

Ok, we still haven’t started. I guess I don’t feel ready. How ridiculous is that? I’m still not “ready” to feed my family on $4.50 a day per person. For real people this isn’t a game and it’s not a choice. I realize how privileged I sound, but I want to take this seriously and there is too much food in my fridge. One of the rules of the SNAP Challenge is that you can’t eat food that you already have and we have a lot. So, the truth is, we haven’t started the challenge yet because we have TOO MUCH FOOD.  That’s messed up. Another problem is that my parents are coming for a visit this weekend and, well, SNAP benefits don’t increase when you have company or when it’s your kid’s birthday. You just have to make it work. But, we’re not going there this time.

However, I did go to the store to do some initial shopping for when we do get started on Monday. I was worried about the food going bad before we were ready to start eating it and then I realized that nearly everything on my shopping list was non-perishable.  And, there it is folks. When you’re eating on $4.50 a day per person–or the average amount of SNAP benefits–you aren’t going to get a lot of fresh food.  It’s just that simple. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality faced by millions of Americans who rely on these benefits to feed their families.  This is why AmpleHarvest.org is so important! More on that later…

SNAP4pic Normally, when I go the store I walk straight to the produce section.  Out of habit I did that again and realized there was nothing there that I was going to be able to get today. That made me sad.  I did check out the prices to see what items seemed to be the most food for the least amount of money.  The large heads of lettuce and cabbage were big, and cheap. A one pound bag of whole carrots was only 79 cents. Duly noted.

I strolled through the “natural” and “organic” section and saw the free-range eggs we usually buy with their big fat price tag, and gasped at the almost $4 organic yogurt that is a staple at our house. I was in the wrong place. I stood in the middle of an aisle like a big dummy just trying to get my bearings.

While I stood there a commercial came on the store-wide speaker. It was an announcement about September being Hunger Action Month, I KID YOU NOT! “1 in 6 Americans is food insecure” it said, and this was the month to take action to help our neighbors in need.  I was pleased to hear it and hope others did as well, but the timing was kind of freaky.

SNAP2pic

Here’s what my cart looked like at checkout.

This was sort of a test run for me–a chance to do some research on the price of food–and I ended up only buying about half of what we need.  I got a big bag of rice ($1), a bag of dried beans ($2.19), several cans of condensed soup (2 for $3), several cans of tuna (.89 each), spaghetti ($1 a box), a big can of oatmeal ($1.57), a huge block of cheddar cheese for sandwiches and snacks ($3.49), a loaf of generic sliced whole-wheat sandwich bread ($1.25), and one box of granola bars for my little snack king which cost $2.19 for a box of 5.  At the check out I saved $2.40 for using the store’s free rewards card, and I ended up paying $26.52 total.  Not too bad. I’ve still got to get eggs, stuff to make sandwiches, side items for my son’s lunches, snacks, and fresh produce. I’ll finish it up this weekend and we’ll really start Monday.

You may have noticed a few things missing from my list and cart. The big one? Meat. We don’t eat meat at my house, except for the occasional filet of fish/can of tuna/fish sticks. That has helped keep the price down. We’re also not planning to drink anything but the delicious Memphis water straight from the tap, and milk. If there is any way on God’s green earth that we can afford coffee, we might just survive this. Y’all cross your fingers.

 

SNAP Challenge: Getting Started

Share Button

SNAP Challenge: Getting Started

For Hunger Action Month, my family and I are taking Feeding America’s SNAP Challenge. We’re going to try to experience what it’s like to eat on just $4.50 a day per person like many of our fellow citizens who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to feed their families.  We’re using this as an opportunity to teach our son (and ourselves) about hunger in America, to help him (and ourselves) remember how fortunate we are to have so much, and to renew our commitment to helping our neighbors in need.

Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 11.58.22 AM

This is my son and a giant pancake. Which he ate. All by himself.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve agonized about this.  We have a 4 year old son who can clean out a fridge and pantry faster than any grown man. I mean, I was warned about teenage boys and how much they will eat, but I was hoping we had a good 10 years or so before that was going to happen. No, my active (some say “wild”), healthy, and fit 4 year old boy eats constantly.  He will eat his entire dinner, and 10 minutes later he’ll want a snack. By bedtime he’s hungry again. After all the books, and the tucking in, and all the stalling tactics, he hollers out to us that he needs “bed food”.  Yes, this is a new category of snacks that are just consumed in bed. With a four year old food-vacuum like my son in the house, you can understand why I’m nervous. How in the world could we possibly keep him full on $4.50 a day? Since we try to give him healthy, low-sugar, and organic snacks (when we can), we’d use up $4.50 before his “second breakfast”.  This is going to be tough.

The first thing I did to get this challenge started was to sit down and figure out the rules.  We are a family of four, but one of us is only a baby and is completely breastfed, so really we’re only talking about feeding three. SNAP benefits are equal to about $4.50 per person per day.  So that’s $13.50 we can spend each day to cover three meals for three people. And snacks. We’re going to need snacks.

Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 11.52.55 AMThanks to Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program, SNAP dollars are doubled at my local farmer’s market.  Though it’s not part of the official SNAP challenge rules, I’m going to take advantage of this program, and integrate it into my challenge.  I will use whatever money is left after the grocery store (if there is any), and I’m going to double it myself and head to the farmers market. I hope I can get some fresh food to plug in the gaps in my menu. More on this in my next post.

Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 11.49.54 AMI know I can’t just go to the store and hope it works out to be less than $100. I need a plan.  So I sat down and tried to come up with meals that don’t require many ingredients, and that I thought would be inexpensive.  Even though my son is a big eater, he can also be pretty picky so I tried to think of things that I knew he would eat. Nutrition is, of course, a top priority. How can I get enough food and make sure it’s healthy food? This is the real challenge.

So here’s my list. I’m going to head to the store soon and see if it works out. I have NO IDEA how much this is going to cost me, but I’ll have to make my modifications at the store and let you know how it goes.

Breakfast ideas:
cereal and milk
oatmeal and raisins
frozen waffles

Lunch:
canned tuna
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
fried egg sandwiches

Dinner ideas:
Black beans and rice
Spaghetti and marinara sauce
Soup and sandwiches (maybe grilled cheese?)

Dinner sides:
Broccoli (frozen or fresh?)
Cabbage
Steamed carrots (frozen or fresh?)

And snacks–seriously, this is going to be tough.
A bag of clementines
cheese sticks
pretzels
yogurt
bananas

How does this list took to you? Do you think I can get all of this for less than $100?  Will it be enough for all three of us?  What would you change? Leave a comment for me and stayed tuned to the blog for more updates!