Tag Archives: raised bed gardens

Beyond Hunger: Gearing up for Our Best Season Yet with Fresh2You

As we recently announced, Chester County Food Bank’s new tagline, Beyond Hunger, sets the stage for our continued work of strengthening and nourishing our community. One of our signature programs that captures the essence of how we do this is our Fresh2You Mobile Market, a four-wheeled produce stand that brings fresh food to underserved areas.

Fresh2You is special to us because it really ties together everything that CCFB strives for in an elegant, powerful circle: organic produce that is grown by our farmer and through our raised bed gardens or through sourcing from local farmers is made available for accessible prices to the residents of Chester County; and volunteers, who staff the truck and run our TasteIt! demonstrations, introducing seasonal ingredients and cooking techniques to Fresh2You shoppers and then offering recipe bundles to recreate the dishes at home for just $5. It’s education and action all in one amazing package, and it exemplifies the ways in which we address the root causes of poverty and help people who need assistance beyond just going to a food pantry.

“Fresh2You aims to serve the entire community — we accept SNAP, have our Fruit & Vegetable RX (FVRx) program and are really trying to meet people where they are, both physically and financially,” said Roberta Cosentino, the Fresh2You Mobile Market Manager. “We’re trying to do what we can to get food in people’s hands in a dignified and equitable exchange.”

Our 2018 Fresh2You season was very successful, and 2019 is gearing up to be our best year yet! A second truck will hit the streets (its name is Blanche, and the original truck is Dorothy — “Golden Girls” fans, do you approve?), with an updated look, complete with the updated tagline “Shop, taste, cook with Chester County’s freshest.”

“We’re emphasizing that people can come to the market not only to get all the produce, but also experience by tasting it and by seeing people cooking TasteIt! recipe demos,” said Roberta. “TasteIt! is the most important thing that we do. We have customers who tell us, ‘This is the one day that I don’t have to think about what to make for dinner,’ and that’s people from all backgrounds.”

The second truck will allow for more mobile market opportunities. Because Blanche is smaller and setup is easier, Roberta believes her team will be able to visit some smaller locations. As it stands, the 2019 Fresh2You schedule is looking great: Tuesday, we’ll be at the Phoenixville Senior Center from 10 a.m. to noon and at the Coventry Mall from 3 to 5 p.m.; Wednesday, at the Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and at the Parkesburg Service Center from 3 to 5 p.m.; Thursday at the Kennett Area YMCA from 10 a.m. to noon; Friday at the Oxford Public Library from 10 to noon; Saturday at the Coatesville Public Library from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; and every last Friday of the month at Indian Run in Honey Brook.  

The season is longer this year, too: It kicked off on June 4 and runs all the way through November 23. One of the ways we’re able to do this is that we’re working closely with our farmers to grow all kinds of crops that help extend the seasons, and that respond to things Fresh2You shoppers have been excited about.

“Our farmers are tailoring what they’re growing to our market!” Roberta said. “For instance, we had a lot of success with kohlrabi. We went from not growing it at all to this year our farmer growing two or three different kinds. We learned that it’s something that people of all different backgrounds eat; we weren’t really aware of that.”

Our farmer is also growing more and a greater variety of fresh herbs, which are frequent additions to our TasteIt! recipe bundles. The recipes that we design are meant to be accessible and versatile, even for beginners — think coleslaw, ratatouille and pasta salad. We want people to know that you can make simple food delicious, even just using a hot plate (as we do during the demonstrations)! The only ingredients we assume people have at home are oil, salt and pepper. We offer our own dried herb blends and vinegar at the market, and hopefully this year will be selling olive oil, as well.

Part of our Beyond Hunger philosophy is that our Fresh2You Mobile Market is open to everyone. We are so excited to see you this season at whatever location is most convenient to your home or work! And, if you love to cook, consider volunteering with Fresh2You and TasteIt! We’re always looking for more helpers, and a comprehensive Fresh2You training is coming up in August.

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 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

Say Farewell to 2017 with a Year-End Deduction to Chester County Food Bank

Before we close the books on 2017, take the opportunity to squeeze in another tax deduction by making a donation to Chester County Food Bank. No matter the size, your gift helps us to continue our mission of ending hunger insecurity for our neighbors in Chester County.

By donating to the food bank, you can help to provide nutritious, healthy food to our hungry neighbors. This year, our generous donors enabled us to distribute nearly 2.7 million pounds of food and feed more than 50,000 people in Chester County. Monetary gifts also help us to continue the important work of providing nutrition education to kids and adults, growing our Raised Bed Gardens program and delivering food to our most vulnerable citizens through Meals on Wheels and Senior Food Boxes for the elderly, as well as supplying weekend backpacks and summer food boxes to school-aged children.

Looking back at the amazing year we’ve had, we’re inspired by donors like the communities that organize around the annual Diwali Food Drive, which has brought us 116,521 pounds of food in the past 5 years. We’re also thankful for business partners like Wegmans and its Care About Hunger campaign and honored to have community partners like Mogreena, a community garden which participates in our Raised Bed Gardens program and is one of the host sites of our Fresh2You Mobile Market.

Please consider joining our community of generous donors and help us continue to pursue our mission in 2018. While we often turn our attention to ways we can help our neighbors in need during the holidays, the truth is that they can use a helping hand all throughout the year. You can donate by year’s end in a number of ways:

Thank you for considering the Chester County Food Bank when making a last-minute, tax-deductible donation. Here’s to a safe and healthy 2018!

Emily Kovach

Photos, top to bottom: Ed Williams; Balaji Studios; Ed Williams; Scott Clay

Kale Yeah! October 4 is National Kale Day

Kale, the unexpected rock star of green vegetables, is getting its own special day: October 4 is National Kale Day! These days, it seems like there’s a “holiday” for practically everything, but this is one that we’re happy to celebrate. Nutrition is a core value at Chester County Food Bank, and kale (plus collards, and other greens in the brassica family) are jam-packed with an amazing quantity of vitamins and minerals, like iron.

Kale, a hearty veggie, grows well in a variety of climates and soils. We should know—2017 is looking like one of our most successful growing years for kale. This fall, we’re set to harvest literally tons (between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds) of kale and other leafy greens grown in our raised-bed gardens and through our farm partners. We’re so proud of this amazing number, and are excited to share the bounty with our community through our many programs and our partner local food pantries and agencies.

To make this harvest happen, we will continue to rely on volunteer power. Volunteering on the farm is fun, and the autumn harvest is the perfect time to get involved! Check out our volunteer page for more info or to sign up for shifts.

There’s good reason so many people have fallen for kale salads and smoothies, and not just because they make pretty Instagram pictures! Kale is low in calories (just 36 per cup), high in fiber and Vitamins A, C and K, has more iron per calorie than beef and is packed with antioxidants. Also, 1 cup of kale boasts 10 percent of the RDA of omega-3 fatty acid and 9 percent of the recommended calcium and magnesium. Oh, and it has protein, too—2.9 grams per 1 cup serving. Pretty incredible, right?

Perhaps, you, like us, have found yourself with an abundance of kale after a productive summer. Or maybe the emerald green bunches are on sale at your local market, and you’re curious to see what this trendy vegetable is all about. Not sure what to do with kale, or its cousins, Swiss chard and collard greens? The options are almost endless!

Try it in a comforting soup with turkey and noodles (great for Thanksgiving leftovers), or shredded in a protein-packed Tuscan white bean salad. Supercharge a regular potato salad, or go classic with a health food cafe-worthy kale salad. If the texture of raw kale is a bit much for you, try massaging it. Yes, really! Rubbing the uncooked leaves down with a bit of olive oil and salt and allowing it to sit for a few minutes can help make the leaves softer and more pleasant to chew.

This October 4, join us in celebrating the wondrous plant that is kale during National Kale Day!

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, healthful food.

Emily Kovach

Photos, top to bottom: Pexels; Chester County Food Bank (next three photos)