by Bob Crego
The Brattleboro Food Co-op’s new Food for All initiative is gaining vital sustenance this winter as a result of a budding collaboration between the Brattleboro Drop-In Center, the Vermont Foodbank, and BFC.
An article in November’s Food for Thought explained how food cooperatives all throughout New England are striving to combat hunger and food insecurity. Co-ops are committing to serving the low-income community by removing barriers to food access. Their strategies include: providing discounts; making shares in co-ops affordable; educating folks on how to buy in bulk and to prepare nutritious meals; marketing and staff training to make stores more inclusive; developing systems and infrastructure to facilitate program delivery; and drawing on community partnerships in order to design and publicize the program.
The latter strategy seems to be a key to getting the Food for All program off the ground. BFC is focusing on the Brattleboro Drop-In Center as a location at which to serve nutritious food on a regular basis; there would be cooking demonstrations and nutrition education perhaps twice a month. Ideally the Co-op would engage some of its members who are adept in the kitchen to educate attendees about the art of making tasty, nutritious low-cost meals.
The Co-op has access to food donations that could enhance such a program. Combined with the produce that is available to the Drop-In Center through the Vermont Foodbank, there would seem to be enough food to sustain an on-going, continuous program.
With the Co-op located just around the corner from the Drop-In Center, the hope is that over time, as program participants become more familiar with one another, there would be opportunities for more programming on site at the Co-op’s teaching kitchen.
The Vermont Foodbank would play a key role in the program by providing funding to help the Drop-In Center increase its capacity to handle more fresh produce and to increase the demand for more fresh fruits and vegetables among its visitors.
In late November, representatives from BFC, the Drop-In Center, and the Vermont Foodbank met to discuss the Foodbank’s 2014 Vermont Fresh Pilot Program, a small grant competition open to its network of partner food shelves throughout Vermont.
According to the Vermont Foodbank, “more and more Vermonters are accessing food from local food shelves and other charitable food sites to supplement their food needs on a regular basis. This change from an emergency food system to a predominately supplemental food system demands a new level of responsibility to provide the most nutritious and healthy food available.”
Through the Vermont Fresh Program, the Foodbank will support ten food shelves by providing grants of up to $1,000 to help the shelves pilot and test innovative strategies and ideas that build capacity to increase access and improve availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Vermont Foodbank Grant activities could entail the following:
- Develop and improve systems to offer more fruits and veggies at the food shelf
- Create visually appealing displays to promote fresh produce
- Improve storage of produce
- Stage special events that promote fresh produce to visitors
- Facilitate increased utilization of fresh produce by visitors
Sites that are awarded grants will also host cooking demonstrations and taste tests once or twice each month between February and June, offered by Vermont Foodbank staff and volunteers. The goal is to engage and entice food shelf visitors to begin using common fruits and veggies that are often times not common choices at food shelves. By providing visitors an opportunity to learn about healthy cooking, basic nutrition, and food safety, the Foodbank strives to empower them to make healthier food choices.
The Brattleboro Drop-In Center is seeking funding to help display fresh food more enticingly and prominently. Although grant awards will not be made until January 20 (after this article went to press), program partners are optimistic for receiving funding and going forward with the program as planned in February.
Much of this optimism is born from strong working relationships that are being developed between the participating organizations. “This is a collaboration—and it’s a collaboration on multiple levels,” said Sabine Rhyne, BFC shareholder and Community Relations Manager. “We are heartened to see the interest among our shareholders for both participating in the healthy Food for All program in the store, as well as being part of the outreach to the community around the Drop-In Center. Our contacts at the Vermont Foodbank are very optimistic that through this collaborative approach, we will be able to make positive change in the options that food-insecure folks have available to them.”
Lucie Fortier, Executive Director at the Drop-In Center is optimistic that this collaborative program will provide inspiration and skills to their clients, thereby enhancing their nutritious food choices. All are hopeful that this collaboration will prove fruitful and sustainable, with the help of BFC shareholder interest.