Fun fact: Manna's Farm to Food Bank program purchased 114, 469 lbs of food in fiscal year 2023. That's a lot of food - the equivalent to almost 9 African bush elephants!
In case you don't know, Manna Food Center began in 1983 as a centralized food bank for Montgomery County and has since grown far and beyond its original scope. It now aggregates and distributes approximately 12,000 pounds of food daily as well as serving as a center for nutrition education.
The Farm to Food Bank program, funded by Montgomery County and administered by Manna, purchases fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and eggs from local farms. Farmers can submit offers of what they have to sell and when approved, Manna matches the food to the appropriate food assistance provider for distribution. They work with 29 farms and 54 recipient food assistance programs.
And of those 29 farms, we are one! Unsurprisingly, or not, we grow way more food than we need for our CSA program. Our sales to Manna constitute a valuable outlet for our extra harvest. We calculated that our contribution to their 2023 total was around 10,000 lbs and we feel pretty good about that!
For the farmers, the model that Farm to Food Bank employs is beneficial in several ways.
First of all, making offers is completely on our schedule. When we have food we want or need to sell, we are in charge of making that happen. So let's say one week we have a glut of eggplant and I know it'll be way more than we need for the CSA shares. Since it doesn't keep so well over the weekend, I'll put in an offer for Friday to make sure that no food goes to waste. We can also combine multiple types of produce into one order, so there's no pressure to have one large, bulk quantity of something for it to be accepted. We could do 100 lbs of zucchini, 50 lbs of eggplant, 200 lbs of tomatoes, and 75 lbs of sweet peppers if that's what we need to move.
Secondly, for most offers, Manna has a vanguard of volunteers who will come to the farm and pick up the produce and then deliver it to the recipient organization. This is great since our crew is almost always busy with on-farm tasks and our delivery van is in use 2 days of the week already. Having the hassle of delivery taken off our plates is such a treat!
And to answer the question in the title, there is a range of recipient organizations. Sometimes the food goes to a standard food bank where community members can come in and take the food they need and cook it in their own homes. Sometimes the food goes to religious organizations who cook the food and run free meal programs.
In any case, we know that by working with Manna, the food we grow will end up in a good place, feeding people who need it.