In Spring 2022, the Healthcare Initiative Foundation (HIF) team began to hear about the hardships local food providers were having in their efforts to obtain fresh produce. During the height of the pandemic response, federal COVID-19 Emergency Response dollars increased purchases and access to fresh and healthy produce. In 2022, these dollars came to a halt and so did the access to fresh fruits and vegetables that local food partners had come to rely on. Partners were forced to travel throughout the DC Metro Region to access healthy and nutritious produce.
After months of discussions and learning tours with County government and local food leaders, the Foundation had a better understanding of the need. Crystal Townsend, President and CEO of Healthcare Initiative Foundation explains, “Food security is a social determinant of health and unequal access to healthy, culturally important, and affordable foods contributes to the health inequities and disparate health outcomes we see in our County. A new approach is needed to help build a sustainable health promoting local food system. HIF’s investment through this innovative contract growing pilot will encourage Montgomery County farmers to grow culturally important, farm-to-table crops creating a local solution to address our County’s food insecurity needs.”
To develop and lead this proof-of-concept model, HIF has awarded $50,000 to Manna Food Center (Manna). While this pilot is a forward-thinking first step, it is being built using the proven Farm to Food Bank model that is led by Manna. Farm to Food Bank was launched in 2010 to partner with local farms, orchards, and farmers markets to purchase local produce at a cost that is beneficial to both the farmers and partners and then distribute those nutrient-dense foods to people experiencing food insecurity through local food providers. Manna’s CEO, Jackie DeCarlo, elaborates, “HIF’s investment will allow Manna to test the ability of contract growing arrangements with Montgomery County-based farms to increase the amount of highly sought after and health-promoting foods that are available for the Hubs and other food assistance providers to share with community members experiencing food insecurity. In addition to supporting the short-term necessity for additional produce for County residents, this financial support of the contract-growing model and enhancement to Manna’s Farm to Food Bank program addresses the ever-increasing need to support the local Montgomery County agricultural economy in order to realize Manna’s vision of Food for All.”
This 16-week pilot, built around the growing season, will partner with two Montgomery County farms – Lewis Orchards (Dickerson) and Farm at Our House (Brookeville) – that will provide produce to two consolidation hubs that have been underserved – Gaithersburg CARES Hub at Seneca Creek and the East County Hub at Kingdom Fellowship. In this advanced purchasing model, the two hubs, through Manna, will place their order for specific produce (in pounds) at the beginning of the growing season (February 2023). The $50,000 in funding from HIF ensures that these two partner hubs and 1700 members of their communities receive a specific amount of culturally-appropriate produce.
To learn more about this pilot project, please reach out to the team at HIF for more information.