by: Jenny Roe
Ever since I heard Cheryl’s inspiring speech at the TedX Manhattan event last February, I have been looking forward to spending my weekends in the kitchen with Farm to Freezer. I recently graduated with my Master’s from the University of Edinburgh, where I focused my studies on food systems, in particular sustainable food systems from supporting local farmers to reducing food waste to increasing access to fresh, healthy food. So when I moved back home to Bethesda it seemed obvious that Farm to Freezer would be a perfect place for me to meet like-minded people and it would be chance to actively start changing our flawed food system. While I have spent the past few months writing blog posts and learning a bit about the logistics of Farm to Freezer, it was not until last Sunday that I had my first hands-on experience. I was inspired.
I was shocked by just how much surplus produce there is at the end of farmers markets. My day started off at the Olney Farmers’ Market where I joined Cheryl’s husband in collecting and sorting the surplus produce that Manna Food Center purchases from the farmers market. Farm to Freezer works in collaboration with Manna, where we process and freeze a small portion of the surplus produce and the rest is given fresh to Manna clients. Come winter, a portion of these local frozen vegetables is given to Manna clients and the rest is sold under the Farm to Freezer label.
About 15 minutes before the market closed, farmers started loading up donation bins with beautiful eggplant, peppers, zucchini, green beans, etc. I knew that a lot of food went to waste at the end of markets, but to actually see the amount was surprising. I also felt grateful for these farmers as they were donating pounds of produce they have worked hard to grow.
After the market closed and the Manna truck was loaded up with the donated produce, we made our way to the kitchen in Silver Spring where all of the volunteers were waiting, energized and excited to start cooking! Cheryl gave us a brief training and some instructions for the day before we started washing, chopping, blanching, baking, and packaging the gorgeous produce. It was hard-work, we spent 3-4 hours preparing the food but it went by fast as everyone chatted about life, jobs, families, things we are passionate about and, most importantly, about the work we were doing and the impact we were making. It was really incredible to see so many people donate their time to save great food from going to waste and preparing it for those in need.
At the end of the day I may have been exhausted, however it was more than worth it and I cannot wait for these next few months. When I opened the freezer to see the bags of delicious, nutritious produce that we redirected from the landfill to where food belongs, I fully began to appreciate the importance of Farm to Freezer’s mission. So join us and make a difference while having a wonderful time in the kitchen with hard-working, inspiring people (oh and you may even be able to enjoy some DELICIOUS home-made hummus). You can sign up as Manna volunteers to join Farm to Freezer on Saturday and Sunday afternoons through the end of October here. We will add more dates to the calendar monthly.