Andrea Weigl: Farmer Foodshare helps farmers feed the hungry

aweigl@newsobserver.comMay 16, 2012 


John Whitehead and his wife Margaret Gifford, of Chapel Hill have been collecting produce from local growers at the Carrboro Farmers' Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays for the past 7 weeks for the IFC's Community Kitchen in Chapel HIll. COREY LOWENSTEIN - clowenst@newsobserver.com

2009 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO - COREY LOWENSTEIN — clowenstein@newsobserver.com

  • Want to help? Farmer Foodshare always needs volunteers to work at its donation stations at nine farmers markets in the Triangle. They also accept donations online, which are used to buy food to donate to local nonprofits battling hunger. To help with their efforts, they are seeking a delivery van or covered pickup truck, coolers and access to cold storage. For more information, go to farmerfoodshare.org and click on Donate or Volunteering. Contact: Farmer Foodshare, PO Box 2873, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27515 or info@farmerfoodshare.org

Margaret Gifford started Farmer Foodshare by taking a box to the Carrboro Farmers’ Market to collect unsold food from farmers who otherwise would have pitched it into the compost heap. Instead, Gifford took that food to a local soup kitchen and food pantry.

You may have seen a Farmer Foodshare donation station at one of nine local markets where the public also can donate produce or cash. In three years, her one-woman operation expanded to a dozen markets from Raleigh to Charlotte and requires the work of hundreds of volunteers. In that time, Farmer Foodshare distributed almost 100,000 pounds of fresh, local food to nonprofits feeding the hungry.

I have long admired Gifford’s resolve. This former public relations executive seems impervious to naysayers. She is doing what many say could not be done: getting fresh, organic food that sells at a premium at local farmers markets to low-income families who are struggling to put food on the table.

I admire her even more for what she’s doing now. While Gifford is proud of Farmer Foodshare’s work, she didn’t like that her nonprofit relied primarily on farmers donating food. She wanted a way to pay farmers, to inject some economic sustainability into the relationship.

After a trial run last fall, Gifford launched the Pennies on the Pound market, or POP market. With POP, Farmer Foodshare acts as a broker between farmers and nonprofits targeting hunger. Each week, farmers offer food for sale, usually at a discount of 10 percent to 25 percent. The nonprofits get a regular source of fresh local food to help plan the meals they will serve and distribute from the food pantry.

“What POP does is offer the farmers a way to sell some of those foods that they would have given to us,” Gifford said. “Nonprofits realize local food is not an elite food.”

Kristin Lavergne, community services director at the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service in Chapel Hill, says the POP market provides consistent access to fresh local food for their clients.

“We really like it,” she said. “It helps the farmers to have that more regular and steady collaboration. It’s really helpful for us – even though we have to purchase the food instead of getting it donated, it gives us some control.”

And participating farmers, like Mark Lyon of Lyon Farm in Creedmoor, also approve. “It works well for everybody,” he said.

Farmers get paid. Needy families are fed. And I look forward to seeing what Gifford does next.

Weigl: aweigl@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4848

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