When Greg Little came to Reality Ministries a year and a half ago, the adults who spend the day there were eating pizza and fried chicken for lunch.
“I joked that we were going to go from a pizza-based diet to a kale-based diet even if it takes 10 years,” said Little, the ministries’ kitchen manager. The faith-based group works with underserved communities in Durham, including people with disabilities.
Thanks to Farmer Foodshare, a nonprofit that connects growers with local hunger relief agencies, that goal took less than a year to realize.
Food gleaned from Farmer Foodshare’s donation station at the Durham Farmers Market is enough to provide meals two days a week at Reality Ministries. Many of the adults in the programs are not normally exposed to fresh produce and are what Gini Bell, executive director of Farmer Foodshare, calls food insecure.
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“Hunger doesn’t look the same as it used to. It’s not about access to sufficient calories, but access to nutritious calories,” Bell said.
Little, of Reality Ministries, echoes that sentiment. He says that many of the adults in the program come from low-income or group homes where fresh, nutritious foods are limited.
“When we started [Farmer Foodshare], we didn’t know that we were starting,” Bell said.
In 2009, farmers and shoppers simply noticed that produce was going to waste after the weekly market in Carrboro. Since it is difficult to incorporate fresh food into emergency food services, farmers at the Carrboro market agreed to donate leftover food to the food pantry less than half a mile from the market, Bell said.
Farmer Foodshare’s first strategy was to set up donation stations at weekly markets across the state where farmers and shoppers can donate fresh produce. Each donation station partners with a local hunger relief agency. Since 2009, the program has raised more than 100 tons of fresh local food for nonprofit organizations. There are 24 weekly markets with donation stations across the state.
Farmer Foodshare also runs POP Market, which purchases food from family farms looking for new markets and sells it to nonprofit organizations serving low-income communities. The produce for the market is housed in a refrigerated warehouse attached to the group’s downtown Durham offices. Bell says any donations of refrigeration units are appreciated.
That’s perfect! A good salad makes a big difference.
Tony Simpson, participant in a Reality Ministries program
Another barrier that prevents people from eating fresh foods is that recipients encounter produce they haven’t tried before or don’t know how to cook or store properly, Bell said.
The group’s Food Ambassadors Program fills in those gaps. Bell said volunteers teach simple and easy-to-replicate recipes and cooking methods.
Back in Reality Ministries’ kitchen, the day’s menu consists of gnocchi and butternut squash sauce with tomatoes, sage and bacon made with Farmer Foodshare produce. Participants in the the day program are in the kitchen rolling the gnocchi by hand and preparing the kale salad while others set the table.
Tony Simpson, a day program participant, said that he used to be finicky about what he eats. But given the chance to eat fresh foods regularly, he has become a convert. Simpson took a bite of the kale, pear and red cabbage salad.
“Oh man! That’s perfect! A good salad makes a big difference,” Simpson said.
902 N. Mangum St.
Durham, N.C. 27701
Contact: Gini Bell, 919-701-2543
Description: In a state that ranks eighth in the nation in agricultural production and where edible plants burst up through cracks in the sidewalk, it is hard to believe that 1 in 5 people (1 in 4 children) are worried about where their next meal is coming from. Farmer Foodshare attacks the problem of hunger from both ends of the table, connecting people who grow food to people in the community who need food. We address the inequality of food access by providing reliable markets for small, local farmers and fresh, healthy food choices for our neighbors in need.
We do this through three programs: Donation Stations (a place to share at farmers markets), a Wholesale Market (a local food hub), and Food Ambassadors, who demonstrate how to store and cook fresh food.
Volunteers needed: We rely on volunteers for everything we do. Spend your morning collecting donations at a farmers market Donation Station, ride along with the produce delivery van, or offer cooking demos to our neighbors in need.
$10 would buy: Fresh local produce for a child in need for a month.
$20 would buy: Fresh local produce for a family of four for a week.
$50 would buy: A cooking demo at a food pantry and produce for participants to take home.