One of the Vermont Foodbank’s most important, impactful goals is to increase the amount of fresh produce that we distribute statewide. Last year, we distributed 41% more produce than the year before, and this year we have further increased our distribution by another 60%. We are on our way to achieving our goal of 2 million pounds of produce distributed, including 425,000 lbs. of local, Vermont grown product.
These achievements have been made possible due to increased network partner storage capacity – some via Vermont Foodbank technical assistance and grants, the growth of the VT Fresh program, partnerships with other organizations active in the charitable food system, like the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL), and the incredible growth of our direct distribution program in cooperation with Support and Services at Home (SASH). Another often overlooked contributing factor is the popularity of the network partner produce drops that we conduct monthly, year-round.
The purpose of a network partner produce drop is to distribute a large amount of fresh produce to an average of twelve agencies at one time, via a central location at a network partner facility, church, or other accessible community site.
Produce drops are open only to network partners of the Vermont Foodbank; the focus is on getting our partners a large amount of produce on a scheduled date so they can plan local client distributions and other events at their own facilities. The Vermont Foodbank averages 8,000 lbs. of produce distributed at each produce drop. Drops are held 5 times per month, two are serviced by our Brattleboro warehouse and three are serviced by our Barre facility. While direct distribution to clients has been a focus of the Vermont Foodbank over the past year, we are committed to ensuring our network partners have the fresh, healthful food they need to serve their communities.
According to Sandra Vincent from the Chester-Andover Food Shelf, “On Produce Drop days, two Chester-Andover Food Shelf volunteers pick up produce and other offerings to take it to the Senior Circle Housing Complex in Chester. Produce is displayed on a large table in the Community Room. Residents come to take whatever they choose and are delighted with the opportunity for both the supplemental food and an opportunity to socialize. The Produce Drops have expanded our capacity to provide healthy choices and have saved us both money and time. Thanks so much to everyone at the Foodbank who makes this possible!”
The Vermont Foodbank has aggressive plans for the future expansion of network partner produce drops. We predict that the Vermont Foodbank will rescue 4 million pounds of food from retailers across Vermont in 2016, with produce and dairy comprising nearly 70% of the product rescued. The benefits of rescuing food that would otherwise be composted or trucked to a landfill are enormous, however, this product poses major logistical challenges since it must be distributed immediately in order to maintain the quality standards set by the Vermont Foodbank.
Conducting bigger and more geographically dispersed network partner produce drops will be one very important tool in our toolkit for ensuring network partners of the Vermont Foodbank have the nutritious, fresh product they need to best serve their clients.
The support of our donors and volunteers makes programs like this possible. Please consider getting involved or making a gift to the Vermont Foodbank today!