Tag Archives: Pete’s Produce Farm

Get to Know the Chester County Food Bank

Whether you’re a regular visitor to our website or this is your first time here, we want to take a moment to say thank you: for caring about your community, prioritizing food insecurity and giving back to your neighbors in need. We know there are many demands on your time and your dollar — as always, we urge you to keep your giving local whenever possible — and we appreciate your consideration of Chester County Food Bank as a place to donate your resources.

If you are a newer supporter or just need a quick refresher, here’s a little bit of background about CCFB:

 

For nearly a decade, we’ve been a force for positive change in Chester County, addressing the needs of a population that isn’t always visible in one of the wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania. We don’t simply distribute food — we search for ways to make a lasting impact on our community, disrupt the cycles of economic instability, create sustainable systems and empower individuals and families.

Some of the ways we do this are through educational initiatives, such as:

  • Taste It! and Eat Fresh: Taste It! is a series of volunteer-led food demonstrations that give people an opportunity to try new foods, especially fresh produce. Eat Fresh is a series of cooking and nutrition classes for youth and adults at risk for food insecurity. These six-week courses give attendees the tools and confidence to choose and cook healthy food for themselves and their families.
  • FRESHstart Kitchen: This new, 14-week program is designed to educate and prepare low-income residents for opportunities and sustainable employment in the food service industry. Led by two amazing staff members, FRESHstart Kitchen assists individuals with limited work experience and significant personal challenges — including substance abuse and criminal records — and provides self empowerment skills to help address challenges entering or reentering the workforce.
  • Bilingual resources: As we investigate ways to reach all of the diverse communities in Chester County, we’ve added staff members to help with bilingual outreach and translation for Spanish-speaking populations, and partnered with La Comunidad Hispana, a diverse, bilingual Federally Qualified Health Center in southern Chester County. There, we offer Eat Fresh classes and, for some families, the Fruit & Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) program, which distributes prescription vouchers that can be redeemed for fresh produce at CCFB’s mobile Fresh2You truck.

We certainly do collect a lot of food (which makes its way to dozens of community organizations and food pantries in Chester County), both from individual donors and groups, as well as through our own methods of growing fresh produce. Here are a few examples:

  • We grow our own food! CCFB has its own five-acre plot of farm land at Pete’s Produce Farm at Westtown School, a space that Pete Flynn, farmer and longtime friend to the Food Bank, generously donated to CCFB. Our farm, led by a talented and dedicated farming expert with the help of hundreds of volunteers, grows all kinds of veggies, which go right to individuals, families and senior citizens in our community.
  • Our Raised Bed Farm Program, which has a series of gardens at over 110 host sites — such as schools, corporations, senior centers and churches — that harvests enough produce to constitute 33% of the fresh produce that we distribute. In total, between our farm, these garden plots, and our hauls from local produce auctions, we’re able to distribute over one million pounds of fresh produce each year to our member agencies!
  • Of course, we also rely on local food drives for fresh and nonperishable donations. From the folks behind the Diwali Food Drive to our Annual PB&J Drive (a friendly competition that mobilizes hundreds of people to collect jars of peanut butter and jelly donations to help keep Chester County kids fed throughout the summer), we are always amazed at the creative, passionate and generous ways that people are able to organize and combine their talents and time.  

This is just a small taste of all of things Chester County Food Bank is able to do thanks to people like you! But just because the winter holidays have wrapped up doesn’t mean we’re all set for the year. We rely on donors and volunteers year-round to achieve our mission of mobilizing our community to ensure access to real, healthy food. Will you join us in 2019 to help create a healthier Chester County?

Want to learn more? 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 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

Photos: Chester County Food Bank

 

 

Meet the Team: A Q&A with CCFB Farmer Bill Shick

We’re proud of lots of our accomplishments here at Chester County Food Bank. One thing that we think is pretty special is how much fresh produce we’re able to supply to our neighbors in need across Chester County. Often, when people think “food bank” or “food pantry,” they imagine cans of food and dried goods lining the shelves. Of course, nonperishable items are an essential component of what we provide, but as fresh food is paramount to good nutrition, it’s a remarkable thing that we’re able to distribute over one million pounds of fresh produce each year.

Some of this produce comes from local produce auctions, where our buying power can stretch your donations to incredible lengths. Some comes from the efforts of our Raised Bed Garden Program, which happens each year across 100 growing sites staffed by dedicated volunteers. But what you might not realize is that a large amount of our fresh produce comes from a farm plot, staffed by Bill Shick, CCFB’s Director of Agriculture Program.

Bill works on a five-acre farm plot at Pete’s Produce Farm at Westtown School, a space that Pete Flynn, farmer and longtime friend to the Food Bank, generously donated to CCFB. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, Bill grows all kinds of veggies at the farm, which go right to individuals, families and senior citizens in our community.

Recently, Bill took some time away from his busy schedule out in the fields to chat with us and share a bit more about himself.

When did you start working for CCFB? What did you do before that?

Bill Shick: In March 2013. Before that, I was the urban agriculture and facilities director at the Share Food Program in Philadelphia. I have been farming off and on since 2000, with a few years of environmental consulting thrown in.

What do you love about farming? What can be challenging about it?

I enjoy being outside, physically active, the planning ahead and working toward a goal — and also the frequent instant gratification of fieldwork. I like using my plant and soil science degree and 14 years of farming experience to tackle day-to-day and seasonal challenges on the farm. Every year is different, and that keeps it interesting.

The challenges include long hours, hot weather, the physical toll on your body, insects, diseases, marauding animals and mechanical problems with equipment.

Why do you enjoy working for CCFB? Is it different from other farming jobs that you’ve had?

I enjoy the fact that what we work so hard to grow is going to those who truly need it and appreciate it. Local produce is often expensive and out of reach for many of those with lower incomes. I also enjoy our partnerships with Pete’s, the county park system and the Camphill community in Kimberton. I’m excited to offer volunteers an opportunity to serve their community, meet new people and learn about farming

There are major differences farming for a nonprofit. The biggest is the daily use of mostly unskilled labor rather than an experienced field crew. Volunteers are almost always willing to work in any weather and do any task; they just require training and patience until they get the hang of what they’re doing. The daily interactions with a big cross-section of our community is a great part of the job. Another benefit of farming in partnership with others is that I’m mostly free from worrying about much of the farm infrastructure and maintenance of heavy equipment.

A huge plus that I appreciate daily is the support I receive from my coworkers and volunteers at the Food Bank warehouse and processing kitchen. They handle the storage, inventory, washing, repacking and distribution of everything we grow. This frees me and my field manager up to focus solely on production and allows us to grow significantly more than we could otherwise.

How has your program grown since you started?

We’ve increased the diversity of what we grow and the length of the growing season. We try to keep up with demand for certain crops and work with our agencies and programs to hopefully increase demand for produce. We’ve taken on more land every year at Pete’s Produce, and have made improvements to field and greenhouse operations at Springton Manor.

How do you envision this program growing in the future?

We often think about adding more acreage at a new farm site that we could manage completely on our own. We’d like to build several large high tunnel greenhouses to grow throughout the year. We’d also like to add enough acreage to grow more storage vegetables to help fill our coolers for winter distribution.

We could potentially offer farmer education and training and a small farm “incubator” for aspiring farmers, too.

Where do you live? Any hobbies in your free time?

I enjoy mountain biking, hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, craft breweries and live music. I split my time between Downingtown and Mount Airy in Northwest Philadelphia, where my partner farms.

Thanks for all you do, Bill! Your enthusiasm and expertise are a huge component in the success of our farming program.

Want to learn more? Watch our our new 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 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

Photos: Chester County Food Bank

Our Partnership With Pete’s Produce Farm

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, sweet corn, 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 also the 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.

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.

Emily Kovach