Have you ever heard the saying: No farmers, no food? We’ve seen this cautionary adage in real life as we’ve deepened our relationships over the years with two local farms that help, in quite substantial ways, to provide fresh produce to the Chester County Food Bank. Because of our longstanding partnerships with local farmers, we’ve seen up close the energy, struggle and Herculean amount of perseverance it takes for smaller farms to thrive. And we’ve also witnessed the importance of these farms to their communities.
One such farm is Pete’s Produce Farm in West Chester. CCFB and farmer Pete Flynn have a history that goes back nearly 20 years. Pete actually began his career in agriculture in 1986 as a dairy farmer, and made the switch to produce farming in 1989. Soon after, Pete generously began participating in the Gleaning Program (the predecessor to our Local Farm Partnership programs) by calling volunteers to come gather crops that were ripening too quickly in the fields for him to harvest and sell. The problem was that often, the volunteers wouldn’t be able to make it out until the weekend, but the produce needed to be picked immediately.
“I thought, ‘What if I take a two-acre lot and grow specifically for them, so they could schedule volunteers at the appropriate time and pick and distribute the produce at its peak?’” Pete remembers. That is just what he did. Currently, Pete has allocated five acres of his nearly 200-acre farm to the CCFB, which are managed by our on-staff farmers. We grow tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, kale and collard greens, cabbage, and other seasonal fruits and veggies.
The harvests from this plot are a huge contribution to our mission to provide nutritious food to local families and neighbors in need through our partner hunger relief agencies.
Pete is a past vice chair of the CCFB’s Board of Directors, and meets with program coordinators each winter to plan crops to grow the following spring. This channel of communication has helped the program to evolve and improve. For instance, although August isn’t typically thought of as a big planting season, at our plot at Pete’s Produce Farm, we sow copious fall crops at the end of the summer, which keeps our volunteers picking fresh veggies until nearly Christmas!
In addition to enjoying the exposure and community connection that this program facilitates, Pete says he feels good about helping people get access to the fresh fruits and veggies that are so essential to a balanced, healthy diet. “It’s so hard to get people fed with healthy food. Non-nutritious food is easy to come by in this country but to get good, nutritious food to people who need it the most … it makes you feel like you’re doing something,” he says.
For locals interested in supporting Pete’s, the farm’s shop at 1225 E. Street Rd. is open every day from April through November, and is stocked with fresh produce, as well as locally made jams, honey, and other goods. For more info on how to volunteer for our Local Farm Programs, head to our volunteer site.
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.