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Monthly Archives: June 2020

Your Dollar + Our Buying Power = A Winning Combo

At the Chester County Food Bank, we procure food for our community partners in a number of ways. Some items come from generous donations from our supporters, while others from food drives. But we buy a lot of food, too—in fact, 42% of our food inventory comes from the food we purchase using money from grants, donations and virtual food drives. And that number is trending upward due to the increase in purchases during the pandemic. It’s with those dollars that we can harness our buying power and stretch those funds to an amazing extent.

How do we do this? We have a number of different avenues that we pursue to take each dollar further:

  • Farmers: Over the years, we’ve developed relationships with local farmers in addition to having our own agriculture program and two staff farmers. Between our farm connections and own planning, we can forecast what we’re looking for in terms of variety and quantity of fresh produce, and then buy in bulk from partners at discounted prices and grow for own programs such as Fresh2You Mobile Market and Eat Fresh.

  • Wholesalers: Through our relationship with Philabundance, which began in 2016, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Cooperative (MARC) we’re able to get great leads on especially good wholesale deals on food. Wholesalers generously donate some food, which helps us offset the cost of more expensive items. For example, if we purchase apples at 70 cents per pound and can get a matching quantity donated, it’s as if we’ve purchased all of the apples for just 35 cents per pound.
  • Produce auctions: This is how we obtain most of our fresh produce. On Tuesday, you can find us at the Leola Produce Auction, scouting out the best deals on fruits and veggies. Amish and Mennonite farmers bring carts and truckloads of produce and auctioneers sell them off to a crowd of 50 or more buyers.

To stretch funds even further, we are constantly forming informal cooperatives with other food banks, because when many food banks band together and buy a truckload of an item, it’s that much cheaper. In these creative, economically efficient ways, CCFB’s buying power keeps growing exponentially more each year.

Want to learn moreSign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate foodfunds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food. 

Emily Kovach

 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

It’s Not Too Late to Start Your Container Garden

Gardening can be a wonderful pastime: It provides opportunities to go outdoors, to connect with nature, to work with our hands, and to enjoy the productivity of raising and caring for plants. Edible gardens go one step further, yielding fresh herbs and produce to enjoy from the early spring through late fall. 

We have heard from many people in our communities that they are starting gardens this year, and we think that’s great! While we’re always in favor of gardening, it feels especially relevant these days, as we are all more aware of food insecurity. Plus, many of us have more time on our hands to devote to a garden! 

We’ve begun to field numerous questions about container gardening from our supporters and neighbors  — if you are ready to get your hands dirty, but aren’t quite sure how to get started, you’ve come to the right place! 

Here at Chester County Food Bank we’ve been managing gardens and helping people start new plots through our Raised Bed Garden program for more than 10 years. Our Raised Bed Garden manager, Raina Ainslie, and garden educator Terry Scholl work with host sites for their initial garden set-up and educational support. With their help, our garden partners collectively grow more than 40,000 pounds of fresh vegetables for our partner food cupboards and agencies throughout Chester County!

Photo credit: Raw Pixel

Container gardening is nothing new to us, and we have some tips and resources to help you start or improve your at-home container garden this year:

A great place to start is with our container gardening best-practice guide, created with the input of our amazing gardening staff, folks from the Oregon Food Bank and the experts at PennState Extension. You can print out the handy PDF guide; it covers all of the basics you need, like choosing a container, deciding what to grow and what not to grow, how much to water and fertilize, plus a list of other resources for further reading.

Your next step is to identify the plants you want to grow, and how many containers you have space for. If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, consider a fire escape, windowsill, or a corner of your back patio. The best thing about container gardens is you don’t need a huge yard — any little patch of sunlight will do!

“Growing in containers is a great option if you have limited space,” Raina says. “Choose quick maturing crops like radish and lettuce, or dwarf varieties of tomatoes.”

Different plants require different planting methods, including how close together to plant the seeds or seedlings. Our team has put together a helpful series of video tutorials to help with this first step of the process. We have 18 tutorials explaining planting of common garden veggies, like spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots and more!   

When it comes to containers you do not need anything fancy, Raina notes. Choose containers that are between 1 and 5 gallon capacity. Small pots restrict the root area and dry out very quickly, so when in doubt, size up. Whatever you use for a container will need drainage holes. Clean buckets, tins and even plastic storage containers can work if you drill or poke a few holes in the bottom for water to flow out. Sanitized kitty litter buckets are the preferred container of many budget-savvy home gardeners! Other items you might recycle, like milk jugs and large yogurt containers can be used to house smaller plants, like herbs. 

When using containers, Raina notes that it’s extra-important to water and fertilize your plants regularly. Because their root systems aren’t connected to the earth below, they rely on you to provide these essential components.

“Containers lose moisture and nutrients quickly. They’ll likely need to be watered every day in the heat of summer,” she says. “When it comes to fertilizers, liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed are good to use. Containers should be fertilized once a week after the plant is firmly established.”

Once your garden is planted and flourishing, consider planting to donate to Chester County Food Bank. Providing fresh produce to our neighbors in need is integral to our mission to fight food insecurity in our community, and every little bit helps. Peas, peppers and eggplants are great options to consider, as they travel well and stay fresh for a long time after harvest. You can also donate a bumper crop! If you end up growing way more zucchini, cucumbers, beans or anything else faster than you can eat it, consider bringing that to us, as well! For more information on, and best practices about, donating garden produce, see here.

We hope you feel excited and empowered to start your own container garden! Once you get in the groove, you’ll be amazed at the profound satisfaction that comes from growing your own food, even if it’s just a few containers of herbs, tomatoes and lettuce! Be sure to share your photos on Facebook and Instagram and tag your garden photos with #GetGrowingChesterCounty

Want to learn more? Check out our mission video, sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or to request a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

 

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Featured photo & third photo: Chester County Food Bank

Get Your Hands Dirty for a Great Cause: Start a Raised Bed Garden

Did you know that the Chester County Food Bank is well-versed in the education and execution of raised-bed gardens? Imagine being able to participate in a thriving program that provides an excuse for some built-in therapy, courtesy of Mother Nature while growing fresh produce for food insecure neighbors within your community.

Raina Ainslie, raised bed garden program manager, says, “Gardens are powerful places for growing community, sharing knowledge and, of course, sharing food. The partner gardens play a crucial role in getting fresh produce out into their communities.” Our garden partners collectively grow 40,000 pounds of vegetables annually for our network of food cupboards and meal sites.

What exactly is a raised-bed garden?

Wood-framed raised-garden beds, also called garden boxes, are great for growing small plots of vegetables and flowers. They keep pathway weeds from the garden soil, prevent soil compaction, provide good drainage and serve as a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails.

Where are the Food Bank’s raised-bed gardens?

With roots stemming from the Gleaning Program in 1997, the raised bed garden program was adopted by the Food Bank in 2009 with six partner garden sites, and has since grown to over 100 gardens hosted at schools, food cupboards and social service agencies. Our raised bed garden manager, Raina Ainslie, and garden educator Terry Scholl work with host sites for their initial garden set up and educational support.

I want to help. Where can I find out more about starting my own garden?

We encourage home gardeners to grow and donate produce to your local food cupboard. Please review our best practices for harvesting and donating produce. Please only donate quality produce you would eating yourself. Avoid donating bruised. or overly mature veggies – no giant zucchini please! Please see our modified produce donation procedure due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

If you don’t have a home garden, we invite you to join us for volunteer opportunities at some of our host sites.

 

When is a good time to begin my garden?

With gardening, any time is a great time to begin. Check out are gardening resources from container gardening, to building a raised bed, to our collection of tutorial videos.

 

Want to learn more? Sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate foodfunds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or request a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food. 

Ed Williams

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.