March is National Nutrition Month and we’re launching a series of blog posts that focus on nutrition within our networks. You can also learn about our programs here.

This is a guest post from Sandy Vincent, Food Shelf Manager at the Chester-Andover Family Center in Chester, Vermont. The Family Center was part of our 2014 pilot of VT Fresh,  a Vermont Foodbank nutrition education program that aims to increase access and improve availability of fruits and vegetables at community food shelves.

Since our move in 2012 to a larger building, Chester-Andover Family Center has created a food shelf food shelf that looks like a small country store with sunshine-yellow walls, new gondola shelving, glass-front merchandisers, grocery carts, and a welcoming atmosphere. Volunteers, including students and staff from Green Mountain Union High School, have contributed many hours to making the space what it is today.

Chester-Andover Family Center “Before” Photos:

The Vermont Foodbank was instrumental in our transformation from handing out a few bags of groceries that included shelf-stable food, margarine, eggs, and frozen meat to a food shelf where recipients fill grocery carts full of a wide range of shelf-stable, refrigerated and frozen foods as well as a variety of fresh produce.

Almost from the beginning, folks in our community began bringing in surplus veggies from their gardens. One day a gentleman stopped to ask if we would like some surplus produce from a local wholesaler. This prompted us to extend our hours to be open on Friday for “Fresh Friday,” so folks could come in once a week for additional produce. We began giving out recipes and talking with folks about how to use products they were not accustomed to using. Our new dilemma became – how can we store all this produce?

Then, along came the Vermont Foodbank’s VT Fresh Pilot Project that enabled us to get started on creating a cold room and purchasing bins for storing produce.  At the same time, we were gifted with shares from a new CSA, and once a week we began picking up freshly harvested produce. We also joined the Healthy Harvest Network, which created opportunities for our volunteers to glean and process local produce to provide fresh and frozen items for our recipients. We received potatoes from Salvation Farms and corn from a local grocer.  The Vermont Foodbank provided several produce drops for area food shelves this fall. Besides getting additional produce at no cost to us from the Foodbank, we had an opportunity to meet folks from other food shelves.

Chester-Andover Family Center VT Fresh Demos:

We are currently improving our cold storage room to correct some issues we discovered during our first summer and fall of operation, mainly air leaks and moisture issues. We will fill air gaps, paint the room with washable paint, install a tile floor and baseboards, and replace wooden shelving and pallets with moveable chrome wire shelving. Many thanks to the Foodbank’s VT Fresh program for encouragement and funding to do this.

As part of our participation in VT Fresh, we are offering food demos and taste-testings, which have opened conversations about storage, processing, and cooking with our clients. Recipients offer recipes and techniques. Posters, provided by the Foodbank, promote fresh fruits and vegetables. Conversations about food have added to the friendly atmosphere at the food shelf.

As we made our transition to a new location, the Vermont Foodbank, the Annual Hunger Conference and folks from other food shelves were instrumental in our visualization of what our new space could be for us and our community. Thanks to Joe Dauscher, of the Foodbank, for helping us take our first baby steps and for encouraging us along our way. Thanks to the many folks at the Vermont Foodbank for their support, help, and encouragement. The connections we have made through the Foodbank with others who share our passion are invaluable.

Sandy Vincent

Food Shelf Manager

Chester-Andover Family Center

Learn more about the Chester-Andover Family Center.