January 30, 2019
Kate Rugani, director of development and communications (left), and Whitney Sewell, community outreach and program manager (right), in the Farmer Foodshare office in Durham, NC.

 

Farmer Foodshare and Duke University have an ever-growing relationship. With help from employee donations to Duke’s Community Care Fund, Farmer Foodshare is able to help community members gain access to healthy, nutritious food.

Farmer Foodshare is not your typical nonprofit. It is considered an engine of social innovation, working to remove barriers that prevent people from accessing healthy, fresh produce and the obstacles that prevent farmers from making a living.

Farmer Foodshare uses four strategies to provide all people access to nutritious food. First, the organization sets up volunteer-run Donation Stations at farmers markets across the state to collect donations of both money and fresh produce. The funds are used to purchase fruits and vegetables at market, all of which is donated that day to a hunger relief organization in that community. Next, through its Wholesale Market, Farmer Foodshare sources and delivers fresh produce grown by North Carolina farmers to local institutions interested in buying in bulk – from universities including Duke, to grocery stores and other businesses, to schools and nonprofits serving low-income communities. Third, their Food Ambassadors program encourages Durham Public School students to learn about and sample the fresh, local produce the Wholesale Market supplies for their school lunches. Fourth, Farmer Foodshare runs a Community Foodshare program that provides members with fresh produce and nutrition education twice monthly throughout the summer and fall. Through all of these programs, Farmer Foodshare works alongside community partners to achieve their goals and provide community members with the fresh food they need.

This year, the organization received a grant from Doing Good in the Neighborhood’s Community Care Fund to fund volunteer training and create marketing materials to encourage the community’s participation at Donation Stations.

The Donation Station model is unusual in that it benefits both farmers and eaters, supporting a local food system that works for everyone. Funds donated by shoppers are spent with the farmers at market, helping them take home less unsold produce. Those fresh fruits and vegetables are donated that day to local organizations serving the hungry. The impact is significant: Farmer Foodshare operates nearly 40 Donation Stations statewide, serving 50 partner agencies across 16 counties. Volunteers spend more than $53,000 with local farms and amass more than 52,000 pounds of fresh produce annually to feed 20,000 community members in need. Yet there is significant opportunity for the initiative to grow, and plenty of ways to get involved.

Volunteers are critical and essential to everything Farmer Foodshare does. At least two volunteers staff each Donation Station during the farmers market, encouraging shoppers to participate. Duke students, faculty and staff play a major role as volunteers with the program.

Nicole Kempton, senior director of graduate and professional school alumni relations at Duke, first learned about Farmer Foodshare at a local farmers market shortly after moving to North Carolina several years ago. Kempton had previously started her own produce donation stand in her neighborhood in New York to supplement a canned food drive.

“I’d planned to launch a similar produce donation system here because I wanted everyone in my community to have the same opportunity to experience fresh produce that I had,” said Kempton. But upon discovering the similar mission of Farmer Foodshare already in place, Kempton began volunteering at Donation Stations instead.

“Farmer Foodshare’s solution enables everyone to get involved in changing the food system,” Kempton said.

Kempton now serves as the board chair for Farmer Foodshare, actively advocating for new, innovative ways to break barriers for community members and farmers.

There are currently over 230 volunteers working alongside Farmer Foodshare, putting forth nearly 10,000 volunteer hours every year.

“Our programs are developed with input from community members – they’re the experts in what’s really needed locally, said Whitney Sewell, the community outreach and program manager at Farmer Foodshare.

“We’re so grateful for the volunteers who bring these programs to life in the communities where they live and work,” Sewell said.

To learn more about Farmer Foodshare and how you can get involved, visit http://www.farmerfoodshare.org.

For more information about how nonprofits can apply for the 2019-20 Community Care Fund grant, visit https://doinggood.duke.edu/about/apply-for-funding/.

Story by Alyzia McAlmon

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