Guest post and photography by Mallory Lane
I consider myself pretty lucky to know Margaret and Alyssa since they're such awesome people, but seeing them grow Seeds that Feed (STF) over the last couple of years has been truly amazing.
The Story of Seeds That Feed
According to Feeding America, more than 6 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables go unharvested or unsold each year, and an estimated 40% of food grown, processed and transported in the US will never be consumed. Each week, one in four Northwest Arkansas residents are unsure of where their next meal will come from, with 65,900 of the food insecure residing in Benton (31,160) and Washington (34,740) Counties.
Since beginning their quest to address disparities between food waste and food insecurity in March 2012, STF has collected over 130,000 lbs of locally grown produce from 71 Northwest Arkansas farms, as well as over 30,000 lbs of recovered foods from area retailers ─ redistributing it to 44 sites and programs serving food insecure individuals in the region. Each year, more than 30,000 low-income families, seniors, and differently-abled residents receive access to healthier foods through the pantries, community meals, and housing establishments currently served by the STF network.
In 2015, STF began piloting the Mobile Food Network in Washington County, with expansion into Benton County in 2016 with generous support from the Walmart Foundation. Offering direct mobile services, STF met individuals where they were - providing access to healthier foods and nutrition education in low-income housing complexes, senior residential centers, and other centralized food insecure populations via a retrofitted box truck turned walk-in pantry. By coming to recipients, STF is able to meet target populations who may have never sought out assistance; subsequently breaking down barriers, opening dialogue, and presenting opportunities for systematic change.
Current plans to be implemented due to findings by the Community and Family Institute's program evaluation (2017-2018):
- In order to create easier access to the produce we deliver, STF will use funds from the Walmart Foundation's NWA Giving program to set up food stations in lower-income communities throughout Northwest Arkansas. Food stations will be permanent, roofed wooden farm stands that will allow for ease of delivery in places like Morgan Manor and Willow Heights apartment complexes that will receive deliveries weekly to bi-weekly during the growing season. "It is our hope that more residents will have access to fresh fruits and veggies by increasing the hours of availability in targeted communities," said Margaret Thomas, Chief Feeder for Seeds That Feed. "Because of the limited hours most pantries are open, many community members experiencing food insecurity are not able to get food for themselves and their families while working an 8-5 job."
- STF has also incorporated an online application to delve deeper into the data that is collected from recipients and recipient sites served. It allows STF to have all data in a highly usable format that reflects what regions the food is going to and houses data collected from which farm produce was donated from, type of produce and amount donated each day, who volunteered and where the produce was delivered. An SMS text-in system was added in order to inform recipients of where and when mobile pantries occur throughout the growing season. The text-in option enables STF to obtain data directly from recipients about how those served are using it, what fruits and veggies each site is more likely to eat, and/or whether they were able to eat what they took. " It is our mission to make sure that no produce is going to waste but also to better understand those we are serving," said Margaret Thomas.
- STF is also increasing fundraising objectives in the current year in hopes of increasing their small staff. They are currently piloting a fundraising program that launched last November titled, Seeds That Feed — The Home. As a small nonprofit, they've found that more intimate 'house-party' type fundraisers give them the opportunity to really meet and engage people while serving up tasty morsels paired with local brews and great wine. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and them know if you are interested in hosting one.
Volunteer with Seeds That Feed at a Local Farmers' Market!
At the end of the farmers' market in both Fayetteville and Bentonville, local farmers donate their extra veggies to Seeds That Feed to be distributed to those in need throughout Northwest Arkansas. The team weighs, logs, and categorizes all of the donations on the square. Several organizations then meet them on the square to pick up veggies for their pantries and community meals and the rest of the produce is then delivered out to lower income communities and other pantries around Benton County and Washington County.
As part of the WalmartGivesNWA campaign, if you choose to do some "carecropping" (volunteering) with Seeds That Feed at either farmers' market the organization will earn $10 for each hour of service. To get involved in Bentonville visit HERE. To get involved in Fayetteville visit HERE.