More than 4,000 pounds of certified-organic student-grown produce from Washington State University’s Eggert Family Organic Farm has been provided to 13 food pantries in Whitman County this year to feed hundreds of families in need.
“In the emergency food world, there’s a huge push for ‘farm to food bank,’” said Paige Collins, executive director of the Colfax, Wash.-based Council on Aging & Human Services.
Using grants from Walmart and Rotary First Harvest, the council contracts with seven Palouse-area farms, including WSU’s. The farms supply fresh produce to more than 1,900 Whitman County residents – more than one-third senior citizens – or about 800 families.
Thanksgiving squash last load for the year
The agreement with WSU began a year ago when Brad Jaeckel, Eggert farm manager, arranged a delivery of winter squash. Bimonthly shipments continued in the spring, ramping up when students went home for the summer and distribution to WSU dining halls tapered off.
The WSU farm sent carrots, tomatoes, winter squash, pumpkins, greens, onions and potatoes. The last donation for 2016 was a load of winter squash before Thanksgiving. The farm will resume deliveries in the spring.
“If we had a lot of extra produce, they got it,” said Jaeckel. “It was a really good relationship.”
Students get hands-on experience
Wholesale contracts like this help Jaeckel pay for an all-student labor force. Eggert farm is self-sustaining and most work is done by a handful of undergraduates and grad students.
At the farm, students in the WSU organic agriculture program learn to grow, harvest, wash and pack produce, mastering the operational and business sides of a working, sustainable farm. The food pantry partnership shows them a new way that farms can make a difference.
“The next step is to get them over to the food pantry and see what happens there,” Jaeckel said.
Food preparation education offered
At local food banks, produce and other foods are presented supermarket-style: “Our volunteers have made an effort to make it look like an organic market,” said Collins.
“People in need don’t always have a lot of choices,” she added. “This gives them choice and allows us to serve our clients with dignity.”
The council’s main Colfax pantry also hosts food demonstrations and plans to offer classes to teach families how to cook healthy meals. Education is an important step in closing the circle from farm to table, said Jaeckel.
Popular greens available year-round
Pantry patrons have been enthusiastic about the freshness of Eggert farm’s offerings, Collins said. Most popular were greens like lettuce, chard, spinach and cabbage. Eggert is one of the few contracted farms that can provide these year-round, thanks to several covered hoop-houses.
“This is big, beautiful, high-quality produce,” said Jaeckel. “We often harvest it the same day they get it.”
Eggert Organic Farm’s relationship with the pantries is expected to grow. Jaeckel met with Collins in the fall to identify which crops to increase for next year’s growing season.
“We’re going to do more next year,” he said.