by Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer
photos courtesy of Alyssa Jumars and Red Shed
It doesn’t always happen, but when demand and supply are aligned, it’s a collective win.
When the COVID crisis hit the United States, several things happened simultaneously in Methow Valley food systems. First, The Cove, the Methow Valley’s food bank, experienced a surge in requests for food assistance, many from people recently laid off. Second, with farmers markets and restaurants closed, as the growing season waxed, food surpluses from farmers and growers began to accumulate. Third, the Methow Conservancy established an online portal where food producers could sell items that they would normally be selling at the local farmers market.
It was the fourth thing, however, where demand, supply, and system converged. Longtime valley resident and board member Gordy Reynaud, along with his wife Adrian Chavey, asked the Methow Conservancy about making a monthly donation that would allow a low-income Methow Valley family to shop through the online farmers market channel. And suddenly the idea took shape: pairing local households in need with fresh foods grown on Methow Valley farms.
Within a few short weeks, the Methow Conservancy’s Farms to Neighbors program launched, in partnership with The Cove and sponsored by donors who were invested in helping Methow Valley families in need access fresh foods, as well as supporting the local farming and growing community. Alyssa Jumars, the Methow Conservancy’s Agricultural Coordinator, says “The idea was to invite donors to contribute to this fund, and then find a few farmers and buy what they had to spare, and distribute this surplus through The Cove to its clients. We thought we might get enough donations to work with a couple of farms for four to six weeks.”
To everyone’s delight, the program was popular for all involved: donors, farmers and growers, and recipient families. “We ended up purchasing more than 6000 pounds of food from a dozen farms over the course of twelve weeks and distributing it to families throughout the valley,” Jumars says.
“Growers whose normal market channels had been disrupted–restaurant orders were cancelled, farmers markets were cancelled–had a means of selling their crops,” Jumars continues. “We’d buy from these farmers and they’d deliver straight to The Cove on Thursdays, when The Cove is open for people to come get food.”
The harvest bounty couldn’t have come at a better time. The Cove usually serves about 40-50 Methow Valley families each week, but with COVID-related unemployment that number surged to 60-70 families. And while some food banks are able to access only unsaleable surplus or #2 quality produce, with bruises or blemishes, the Farms to Neighbors program prioritized top quality produce. “It was really important to everyone involved in the program to give families produce that was every bit as beautiful as what you’d find at farmers markets,” says Jumars. “The farmers and growers appreciated being able to give their best products to families in need.”
Jumars worked with The Cove to learn what food types would be most useful each week, and sourced those items from the participating farms: Bluebird Grain Farms, the Channing Family Farm, Hoodoo Blooms Farm, The King’s Garden, Posterity Farm, Rest Awhile Farms, the Red Shed, Ruby Slippers Farm, Sunny Pine Farm, Twisp River Organic Apples, Wild Plum Farm, and Willow Brook Farm. “We all learned together,” Jumar says of figuring out the details of the Farms to Neighbors program.
Pancakes were a definitive favorite for Cove customers, and Bluebird’s Organic Emmer Pancake & Waffle Mix satisfied that hotcake craving. Not your mainstream spongy tasteless disks, Bluebird’s emmer pancakes and waffles melt in your mouth with the sweet nutty flavor of freshly milled emmer farro. High in protein, fiber, and B vitamins, the pancake mix is a great source of energy and nutrition for all ages.
Glen Schmekel, the Executive Director of The Cove, says that the Farms to Neighbors program was “A wonderful gift from the Conservancy to the food bank.” He continues, “We were able to give a full bag of fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains to each family every week during the season. Sometimes each bag was 20#.”
Schmekel acknowledges the donors that made the program possible. “What a fantastic idea,” he says. “It helped everybody.”
Farms to Neighbors was a pilot program for 2020 and its future in the next growing season is uncertain. But the 6,000 pounds, bunches, bags, and cartons of locally-grown peaches, apples, pears, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, carrots, beets, cabbages, potatoes, onions, garlic, leeks, leafy greens, goat cheese, free-range eggs, and pancake mix distributed to hundreds of community members are a testament to the Methow Valley’s commitment to its farmlands, its growers, and its people. When a need arises, the Methow Valley finds a way to fill it.