NPR Listeners Fight Hunger with Fresh Food

On Saturday, Northeast Indiana Public Radio (NIPR) kicks off its semi-annual pledge drive to raise funding for the programs we depend on for unbiased local and national news and intelligent entertainment. This season, Green B.E.A.N. Delivery is adding its contribution: Each listener pledge will be matched with a donation of fresh produce equivalent to three healthy meals to Community Harvest Food Bank (CHFB). By the end of the week, the three organizations hope to generate more than $130,000 and several tons of food.

Green B.E.A.N. Delivery has chosen CHFB's Farm Wagon program to distribute the vegetables, which include potatoes, green beans and onions, throughout the northeast Indiana community. Farm Wagon began in 1999 as a response to the food bank's frustrating lack of ability to handle large volumes of fresh commodities in a timely and safe manner. In fact, this has been a nationwide challenge, with millions of tons of fresh food being lost to waste each year.

Similar campaigns, partnering local Green B.E.A.N chapters and NPR stations, are running concurrently in Indianapolis, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky.

"Fresh food must be received, processed, stored and distributed according to very high standards, and food banks must meet the same requirements as any retail outlet, such as a grocery store or farmer's market, " says Claudia Johnson, Communications and Advocacy Manager for CHFB. "The food we provide to the community must be high quality and nutritionally sound."

In all, the Farm Wagon delivers 1.5 million pounds each year of fresh produce and other perishable items such as milk, cheese and yogurt. With the help of 264 volunteers, the Farm Wagon visits 88 urban and rural sites each month, delivering nutritious food to Indiana residents who would otherwise simply do without.

Thanks to generous contributions from area farmers, distribution companies like Green B.E.A.N. Delivery, andgrocery stores such as Walmart and Kroger, the CHFB has had the fortunate challenge of processing a larger supply of food donations than their facility can currently accommodate. In response, programs such as their upcoming blanch-and-freeze operation, which minimally processes fresh food with parboiling, are being developed in-house so that large quantities can be harvested safely and provide reserves all year long.

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Johnson proudly explains, "At the end of our capital campaign, certified food handlers will process all kinds of fresh produce in a commercial kitchen, using sophisticated refrigeration and storage techniques."

Most of us can remember a time when you didn't associate food banks with fresh food. "It used to be that we might have a warehouse full of food, but it was mostly snack foods, mislabeled Pepsi, Michael Phelps Frosted Flakes (oops) and maybe a crate of jalapeño peppers. We basically got the mistakes and the leftovers", Johnson recalls.

In the last ten years, with a shift in the way American consumers are viewing health and disease, sustainable farming and environmental stewardship has helped to create solutions and partnerships between communities, farmers, private enterprise and government agencies.

"There has been an evolution in food and agricultural policy from a near exclusive focus on farmers and ranchers to a more diverse emphasis on consumers, rural communities and others," says Beth Bechdol, Director of Agribusiness Strategies for Ice Miller's ag legal practice, who has actively participated in farm bill legislation as both an employee for the state and national departments of agriculture.

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Bechdol continues, "Healthy eating initiatives like those of Michelle Obama are influencing consumers and also spurring food manufacturers to change the way they process, prepare and package our food.  And, even here locally, Jane Avery, the executive director of CHFB, is providing the vision, leadership, drive and commitment to improve the nutritional offerings and food choices of the food bank.  All of these initiatives - from national to local - are having an impact on the way our country eats."

So this week, as you tune in to listen to your favorite NPR programs like Morning Edition, Car Talk, or Midday Matters, or relax to the sounds of jazz as you enjoy your evening meal, pay it forward by making a pledge.

Northeast Indiana Public Radio's Spring Fund Drive is April 21-29. You can pledge online or call 260-452-1185 (toll-free 800-471-9264).

Donations are tax-deductible.

Photos taken at Matt Ewers Feel Good Farm in Sheridan, IN.