We all need to eat. Food is essential for life and eating is an experience we all share; yet, many of us don’t often think of the farms that produce the food that make up our daily meals.
Inspired by the concept of healing with whole foods, I set out twelve years ago to help the community in which I was born and raised to reconnect with the power and riches of its local farms. I started by harvesting the crops that Lamoille Valley farms left in the fields because the value of the crop was too low to harvest for market, the cost to pick it was too high, or they had just produced too much. Through this work my neighbors and I established what is now called Salvation Farms.
Through Salvation Farms, community members harvest, clean, deliver, and process fruits and vegetables that would have otherwise gone uneaten, thus strengthening relationships with food and farmers.
In a 2016 report released by REFED it was identified that 63 million tons of food is wasted in America annually. Of this food, 16 percent is lost on farms. Food loss, as opposed to wasted food, refers to edible crops that are left in the field or are harvested but not sold or donated.
Last year Salvation Farms surveyed farmers across the state of Vermont to estimate the annual food loss on farms. Survey results suggest that as much as 7,000 tons of wholesome edible crops never leave Vermont farms.
Salvation Farms sees this high level of food loss as an opportunity to teach people about farms, the food system, market realities, and consumerism. It is an opportunity to work more closely with farmers to find out what the regional food system needs to move unsold, wholesome produce to eaters in a way that doesn’t come at a cost burden to farm businesses and won’t compete with them in the marketplace.
More than 80,000 individuals in Vermont are food insecure and our institutional meal programs are spending millions of dollars to purchase fresh food grown outside of state to serve more than 19 million meals annually. We’d like to bridge the gap between food loss on farms and our state’s demand for fresh foods.
Salvation Farmstakes a partner-based approach to managing crop loss and works with the Lamoille Valley Gleaning effort, Vermont Gleaning Collective, and the Vermont Commodity Program The Vermont Commodity Program, in its Winooski-based facility, serves as Vermont’s first surplus crop food hub and provides an outlet for excess crop volumes that are harvested by volunteers or culled from the wash/pack-lines on farms. In addition to reducing crop loss and making more locally grown produce available to agencies serving Vermont’s food insecure, this program operates a workforce development training program for individuals with barriers to employment.
Salvation Farms is inspired by the amazing work being done in our region by efforts like Vermont’s Farm to Plate initiative and the New England Food Vision. Both of these efforts are taking a long-term view at what supports are needed to increase our use of regionally produced foods. Vermont’s effort calls for an increase in local food consumption to 10 percent by 2020 and the New England Food Vision aims for 50 percent local food consumption by 2060.
Managing the edible crops that farmers produce but are unable to send to market is one necessary element of meeting the above goals. As Salvation Farms’ work evolves, we seek the expert advice of those who have learned lessons from working on efforts such as New England Farm to Institution and the Vermont’s Farm to School Network.
Here at Salvation Farms, we believe that our work provides layers of healing with whole foods on both individual and societal levels as we increase the nutritional quality of food consumed and engage people in community-building activities.
Theresa Snow is the Founder and Executive Director of Salvation Farms. Born in north central Vermont to a family committed to farming and gardening, Theresa is committed to keeping local agriculture thriving in Vermont.
The Community Health Investment Fund at the UVM Medical Center supports a wide range of community programs and initiatives that improve the health of our community. The fund is overseen by the Community Health Investment Committee, which is made up of both community members and hospital staff. We invest $800,000 annually in efforts that further the priority areas identified in the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Needs Assessment. To date, we have supported 23 programs at 19 organizations across our service area in our current fiscal year. The 2017-2019 priority areas are: Access to Healthy Food, Chronic Conditions, Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Supportive Housing.