Last week, I had the most simultaneously terrifying and empowering week I've experienced in this work to date. On Tuesday, I found out that Community Hunger Solutions would not be receiving money through Hunger Task Force's grant proposal to DATCP. Later that day, I found out that Hunger Task Force Milwaukee would, in fact, be funding up to $10,000 of purchases from local farms made between now and November 15, 2020!
With the narrow window for using the money, it was imperative to complete the reporting elements and get official approval as quickly as possible. After months of waiting for word, it was similar to waiting at the starting line of a race for an hour before the gun goes off. All the farmers that I've been communicating with about this opportunity had stopped counting on it. After I was given the official go-ahead on Thursday, I needed to reach out to farmers and begin receiving produce as soon as possible. Most of my farmers don't have telephones or email addresses, so I could either try to catch them at the Food Enterprise Center or drive to their farms to speak with them.
Right before I started setting up for CHS' Friday food box distribution, I received word that the supplier from whom we've been getting the boxes was not approved for this third round of funding. As of the week beginning Sept 21st, CHS will no longer receive the aggregated food boxes that have made up about half of our distribution this year.
The "extra" money that CHS had just been approved for immediately became a needed safety net that could (with an incredible feat of community support) help Community Hunger Solutions replace the USDA boxes with boxes of our own.
I started the box distribution at 3pm feeling quiet and calm, terrified at what is at stake for our community members who are in need of this resource but empowered by the support of Hunger Relief Federation (an organization facilitated by Hunger Task Force Milwaukee) and determined not to let our community down. Friday evening after Kathy and Dave - the Friday food pantry volunteers - relieved me was spent diligently working on my plan. I made a spreadsheet in my notebook and searched up the best route to travel to farms from Cashton to Mount Hope.
Saturday was the most beautiful day I've experienced in a long time. I met with farmers, explaining the situation and negotiating prices for produce tp include some sorting, boxing, and delivery. I learned that this year has been a really good year for farmers in terms of the quality of produce (the relatively dry conditions result in far less infections from rot and bugs) but very tough in terms of market stability. Every single farm I visited, families were out in their fields harvesting crops. Each farmer happily showed me their storage spaces full of winter squash, sweet potatoes, onions, peppers, beets, cabbage, tomatoes. We discussed what CHS' needs are and what could be provided for the best price. I arrived home around dark with a list of produce that I could expect to be delivered on Tuesday and a renewed appreciation for the interconnectedness of our communities to the farmers that live and work here.
Thanks area farmers' willingness to support CHS and dairy donations through Hunger Task Force La Crosse (fellow Hunger Relief Federation member) and Organic Valley, Community Hunger Solutions is in a position this week to begin aggregation of truly local (and organic) Farm to Families Boxes for CHS' Viroqua distribution and pantry partners in Vernon, Monroe, Crawford, Richland, and Grant counties! All is not settled, though. CHS will need an incredible show of volunteer support to complete the bagging and boxing of bulk food items into mixed boxes for distribution.
To help, contact me (Program Manager) as soon as possible! Jeanette@community-hunger-solutions.org or (608)606-9144. Thank you for your support!