Food Pantry Research

By Karen G.

Thank you for the opportunity to address an issue that is very near and dear to my heart. That is the need to talk about and make changes in the availability of fresh vegetables. I would like to enlist the help of churches, non-profits and even individual gardeners to grow locally and donate it to pantries. The following information and ideas are from my research into why and how food could be improved for everyone.

The need for fresh and healthy produce is vast and unending. Fresh locally grown pesticide free food would solve many problems our society is facing. Health problems such as heart disease, colon cancer and obesity could be prevented.(over 30% according to health experts. 50% was quoted by a Surgeon General at a hearing according to “Diet for a New Planet”) Why shouldn’t everyone be able to eat the best food possible? It is well documented that mental, emotional and physical well being are all affected by food from before birth. Local skilled and unskilled jobs in farming, processing and nutrition could be returned to our communities with the growth of more local food. One place to start would be with the distribution of food to the poor and elderly. More...
One outlet that I would like to work with is the food pantry. They service the most vulnerable people the best they can. But they fall short on getting and distributing healthy fruits and vegetables. The majority of their offerings are high sugar, high starch and high salt. I have witnessed this by accompaning a number of people to pantries around Columbus. A bag of supplies was noted for having numerous processed cake and pasta mixes, canned food with high sodium counts and a lot of cookies and white rice. This was the standard for numerous visits by my diabetic friend. Why is this? Distributing food to the needy has become a big business that the corporations have worked into their business plan. High profit margin foods such as pasta, cereal and pastries make up a large portion of their tax write-off donations. They encourage people to buy at full retail to give a can to the poor. Yet the pantries could buy at wholesale 8 times as much with that as a cash donation according to the Mid-Ohio Food Banks’ own literature.

Good fresh healthy produce is at a premium since being eliminated from the local economy. Of the 590 farms listed in Franklin County by Farm Bureau statistics only a few are farm markets or produce anything other then cattle, corn and beans. The majority of our processing and farming jobs have been moved out of state, across country and even around the world. We can improve the standard of living for many by thinking and growing locally.

Understanding the needs of the facilities is key to knowing how and where support could be given. Many of the pantries are limited in their ability to handle perishable goods such as dark leafy greens and salads. They may not have an upright refrigeration unit that could hold such things or the budget to cover the electric that is necessary. Such produce needs cleaning and packaging on the farmers end also to ensure freshness.

Many of these problems could be solved with a more direct approach to charitable giving and having the farmers deliver directly to the pantry. The farmer might need an employee to prep and deliver fresh produce. The pantry needs an overseer knowledgeable of the product. They currently can order what they know is in season and being overproduced by commercial farms mostly in the northern parts of the state through the organization 2nd Harvest. They work with commercial farmers around the state and also with several of the Amish produce auctions. They have access to a delivery and pick up service. And also a preapproved payment plan (at reduced rates) for produce overages and damaged farm produce. However they are limited in their response time to get the more perishable items on to their final destination. The local pantries would take as much as they could get but are limited by their budget to preorder fresh produce. Having new local sources would benefit everyone involved with this issue. Supporting the pantries and more local farmers at the same time would start us on the road of recovery and self sustainability. The following is a possible overview of local produce that could be provided to a food pantry. A farmer would need to know in the fall what quantities to plan for planting and harvest. Any one farmer with a pick up could deliver up to 600 pounds, conservatively 2 or 3 of these, in case packaging. Volunteers could divy it out at the pantry.

Given that a family of 4 people ate 5 servings a day. A family should expect to eat 18 pounds of fresh produce a week. A family given their choice of 3 from group a: 2-4 choices from group b: and one choice from group c would gain numerous health benefits over the canned and prepackaged food they may be use to.
100 Families Group A Tomatoes 2 lb 200 lb Potato’s 5 lb 500 lb Onions 2 lb 200 lb Group B 50% 1st choice Cabbage 1 head/3lb 50 head/150 lb Dark Greens 2 lb
100 lb Salad Greens 2 lb 100 lb Celery 1-2 stalk 75 stalk Group C 30 % 1st choice Cucumbers 2 lb 70 lb Beets 1 lb 35 lb Squash 2-3 lb 100 lb Corn 6-12 ears 35 doz Carrots 2 lb 70 lb Green beans 2 lb 70 lb
Total quantity could be increased by 10-20 % to give more choice for groups B and C.

The yields and growing needs for different vegetables vary. According to the planting guide in Johnnies Select Seed catalog; Tomatoes produce as much as 150 pounds per 100 foot row. Baby greens would produce 20 pounds every month in a 100 foot row. Many of the root crops would produce about 1 pound per foot every 60 days. Pole beans produce more than 100 lb per 100’row foot and could easily trellis on fenses and be wind breaks too! To produce two hundred pounds of the root crops every week would require (4) 4′ x 50′ bed. (perhaps allow an extra 40 sq feet for each bed) Seed would cost less then $10 for a season of weekly plantings for most crops. Each bed would rotate into something else starting with the first harvest. Corn needs a lot of space and full sun. Most of the other crops have varieties that would do just as well in vacant lots with partial shade to meet most needs. Thinking on a larger scale! A few hundred acres and a few of our grain farms transitioned into produce would feed the majority of the people getting food stamps in any given county.

Cost is usually a major factor of how well people eat. Most of the higher valued dark leafy greens and roots are valued at $2-$3 Lb. at current market standards. The onions and tomatoes can fall to as low as 75 cents at the peak of season. This represents about $15 to$25 for the low end of conventional cost and $35 to $50 for good quality food in a family’s budget. Currently food stamps provide about $150 a month to those who have fallen through the giant cracks our corporate society is creating. The cheap high starch/ high sugar/high salt content of the foods currently available from our food pantries are just creating more health problems for the down and out. This effects everyones income through taxes and insurance costs. We must change this situation sooner not later. A food bank or pantry could consider sponsoring a farmer to grow 1/2 an acre or more. The following are some basic statistics concerning food.

U.S.D.A. percapita Yield per retail cost acre for consumption 1983 acre fall 07 1000(aprx) beans 6.8 lb 4,000 lb 1.50lb 2 cabbage 10.3 31,500 .79 3 1/2 carrots 9.4 30,000 1.50 3 lettuce 22.4 27,000 varies 1 1/4 tomatoes 74.4 28,000 1.50 3 onions 13 38,500 1.00 3

These production yields are based on commercial farms reporting in various trade magazines. They use a monocropping system that uses chemicals and migrant labor imputs that have not been totally analyzed for their effects on our economy and environment. Most of these crops are trucked here from out of state even at the peak of our growing season. California reports that 400,000 truck deliveries occur in their state alone just for their tomato crop in the last year. Growing local would reduce this extra expense and create jobs here. Ohio does have a thriving tomato, celery and cucumber industry. But because of our lack of local processing it does a lot of traveling first! Truckers at truckstops comment that it is not unusual to pick up a load here. Take it there. Then bring it back again in a different format. Who’s paying for this! And Why!

Menu planning is another place where we fall short as consumers. People utilizing food pantries don’t have this luxury. They may not have learned how growing up. Or just can’t afford to do it now. Most health organizations and diet books recommend 5 to 7 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. In a week this could break down to the following for a family of 4.

Breakfast Lunch Dinner Snacks Mon fruit tomato soup carrots fruit 2 ea lg mixed salad greens w onion Tues vege dish salad w onion potatoes celery/apple cabbage Wed fruit broccoli beans /onion carrots/celery slaw tomatoes (any) Thurs potatoes
soup squash melon peppers greens w onion Fri fruit bean salad peas w onion caul/broccoli fruit soup (any) Sat potatoes melon stirfry or carrots/celery soup lg salad Sun fruit tomato sauce carrots carrots/broccoli

The shopping list to accomplish this is: (Frozen substitutes would bring cost down)
apples 3 lb $2.50 salad broccoli 2 lb 2/$3 iceberg/leaf 2 lb $3.50
carrots 2 lb $3 dark greens 2 lb $3.00 potatoes 5 lb $2.79 celery 1 stalk $3.00 onions 3 lb $3 squash 3 lb $2.75 tomatoes 2 lb $3 cucumbers 2 lb $2.00 cherry/slicing beans dry/frozen 2 lb $2.50 sauce $2.25 broccoli/cauliflower 2 lb $2.75 peppers/eggplant 3 lb $4 peas/corn 2 lb $2.50 cabbage 3 lb $2.50 fruit/melon 3-5 ll $5.00

This menu doesn’t include meat, condiments, beverages, rice or pasta. It totals over $55. Doing your math should tell you that a family earning $6.85 an hour for a 40 hr work week and making $274. less expenses for home/transportation/medical and everything else are probably having a rough time of it. Our community has thousands of people on fixed incomes with a total of $150 to $200 in food stamps for the entire monthly food budget. Food is very important. Spend your money wisely. Let’s close here. I foresee food councils being developed to address these issues. I see people getting food they can enjoy eating. I see communities coming together over the dinner table.

Refined plans and other results of collaboration will be posted under the Resource Library.

Another Food pantry idea

Another idea that might be used to promote donation by farmers to food pantries is the one below.  Already used by CFI in Athens, Ohio.

Subject: PSA-Harvest a Row for the Hungry
From:    “Community Food Initiatives” <>
Date:    Tue, September 2, 2008 8:38 pm
To:      undisclosed-recipients:;

Please post this until September 15th, 2008
Contact: Ronda Clark

Are you awash in produce from your gardens and don’t know what to do with
it? If so, please donate it to the CFI Donation Station at the Athens
Farmers Market or bring them to 143 Morris Avenue, Athens.  We will get
them to the local food pantries, My Sisters Place, Goodworks and the Rural
Womens Recovery House.  For info 740-593-5971 or

Food Pantry Ideas

I have an idea on how to help food pantries get more local and fresh produce during the season.

There are several farmer’s markets around the city, all with vendors that bring alot of produce during the summer season.  Could an organization organize and train volunteers to make the rounds at these markets and talk to the farmers about contributing their unsold produce at the end of each market day to local food pantries? There would need to be a few or more volunteers to make the contacts. The volunteer would arrange to pickup the produce at the end of market day or at a set location that same day and take it to the food pantry.

Volunteers could not be at all the markets right at closing time, so arrangements could be made with local businesses for the produce to be left at their location for an hour or so until the pickup is made.

Volunteers would need to work Saturday mornings and other market days and arrange for produce to be set aside and then make the pickups.

Volunteers would need to be able to issue a tax deductible receipt to the vendors. This could be filled out at pickup and mailed to the vendors. It could be emailed if vendor wishes.

I wonder if there are other similar models that do this?