How MANNA FoodBank Sources
From Local Farms (And Why)
A conversation with Food Sourcing Director Art Graff and Director of Marketing + Communications Kara Irani
There are a lot of advantages to working with local agricultural systems for food banks like MANNA—access to fresher produce, reduced environmental impact, and lasting connections between community and farmers.
Q: How does MANNA integrate with local agricultural systems (ie: work with local farmers)?
MANNA FoodBank: MANNA has a long history of working with local farmers, and MANNA is very dependent on local agriculture. During the peak growing season, most of the produce we distribute is donated from local farms and produce packing houses that are obtaining produce from farms in our region. For example, every year, we receive and distribute tens of thousands of pounds of apples from local growers.
Q: What impact does local ag have on MANNA (what percentage of the food you distribute locally sourced/how many farms contribute/etc.)?
MFB:Our produce goal is at least 30% of the total pounds distributed. Last year we distributed 6.1M pounds of produce; this was a 5% increase over the previous year’s volume. Our sourcing strategy is to source as much as possible locally, and we work with hundreds of farmers across the tri-state region to source food. We also are very reliant on sourcing products that are not available locally from farms that are part of the Feeding the Carolinas state association.
Q: What are some local farms that give to or work with MANNA?
MFB: Apple Ridge Farms, LLC, JW Johnson Tomato, Stan Rodes, Olivelett Farms, and McConnell Farms, just to name a few. During peak growing season, we get calls every day from people who want to donate their abundance to MANNA. We will accept 100 pounds of eggplant from a local organic farmer just as easily as accepting 10,000 of apples coming from Henderson County. We also partner with ASAP in helping them match local farms directly with nearby agencies. This reduces the time it takes to move the produce from the farm to the families in need.
We also work with many “backyard gardeners” who grow food to donate to MANNA. Just today our food sourcing director received a call from a woman whwhoseo’s pear trees are “very happy,” and she wanted to donate 800 pounds of pears. We were able to connect her with a local agency that could distribute the pears to neighbors in need right in her area. We receive this type of call all the time. Sometimes our role is facilitator, matching the produce to a need.
Other times we will jump in the van or a truck and pick up the produce and then make it available to our agencies. Bottom line: We are diverting produce that would otherwise rot in the ground or end up in a landfill and getting it in the hands and mouths of the most needy people in our area.
A few recent donations have come from:
- Quality First
- Geneva Farms
- JW Johnson Tomatoes
- Apple Ridge Farms, LLC
- JW Johnson Tomato
- Stan Rodes
- Olivelette Farms
- McConnell Farms,
And a few other regular farm donors:
- Apple Ridge Farm
- Creekside Farm
- Hickory Nut Gap
- Arcadia Dairy Farms
Q: Can you share a story that’s representative of the ways in which MANNA, local ag, and those in need interact?
MFB: We often have regional family farms reach out to us wanting to help, and we will often work to connect them directly to one of our partner pantries in their area—with over 200 partners across 16 counties, we have many connections we can help make! This helps accomplish several things: First, the food doesn’t have to travel to MANNA and then back to an agency, meaning the agency—and therefore a local family—receives fresher food that hasn’t traveled extra miles. Second, the farm can work with a partners’ specific needs for their clients. And third, the farmers are then directly impacting their immediate community, and that has incredible ripple effects. Recently we have been working with ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project) to make these connections.
There’s nothing quite like the face of a child seeing some kind of vegetable that they’ve never seen or tasted before.
There’s nothing quite like the face of a child seeing some kind of vegetable that they’ve never seen or tasted before. Our local farmers help build this wonderful connection to where our food comes from, especially for children, when they can see the whole food ingredient, and not something already processed into a meal.
Q: What do you see as the benefits of integrating local ag into the food bank system?
MFB: One of the biggest benefits of integrating local ag into the food bank system is time and miles. Most of the produce we distribute is picked within a few days from when we receive it.
This allows us to then distribute it to our agency partners as quickly as possible. By obtaining local produce we are able to pick it up using our fleet of trucks, thus reducing the added mileage.
Any time we can get fresh produce to families who are struggling to afford the basics, we know that we are supplying much-needed nutrition. There are countless studies about the impact of food insecurity on a person, including health impacts. When someone receives fresh food, especially grown close to home, we know we are helping to support their health and wellbeing.