Loving Local Meals for food security

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 8:00am

Answer: Beef stew, soup, vegetarian red bean gumbo, microgreen salads, ciabatta bread.

Question: Name what’s been on the menu of the Loving Local Meals Initiative, distributed at select local food pantries.

That’s exactly what’s been happening for clients of food pantries in Boothbay Harbor, Wiscasset and Somerville (pop-up version) the past two weeks, with Jefferson being added this week.

The Initiative is the brainchild of Rising Tide Co-op, in partnership with Salty Boyz food truck, local farms and food pantries. Its mission: to produce and distribute tasty, organic, healthy meals to help combat food insecurity. It is also an example of Rising Tide’s ongoing commitment to supporting, carrying and promoting local produce and other natural products as it has since 1978.

The seed money for Loving Local Meals was unexpected. Rising Tide General Manager Heather Burt said she was contacted by a couple (who remain anonymous) who wanted to put some money behind local farms and help get their fresh food to people in need – particularly now during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some of the food has been donated by the farms and vendors and some is being bought by Rising Tide. The Co-op uses donations from people in the community, and from store customers who are now curbside shopping who designate donations for the ‘Loving Meals’ or as tips for Co-op employees filling their orders.

The initiative also helps keep the kitchen staff at Rising Tide employed. Ever since the first positive case of the virus, they’ve been cooking and serving soup and bread lunches to go from the parking lot Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Salty Boyz food truck covers the other four days of the week. People can drive through the Rising Tide parking lot every day for two hours and get a hot meal.

Loving Meals also means local – buying ingredients from local farms. For example, this week’s lasagna offering features homemade ricotta cheese from Lakin’s Gorges Farm.

Last week, Burt estimated, the initiative provided around 300 meals. The Co-op board coordinates the delivery of the meals that arrive at the food pantries in large coolers already generously apportioned.

Wiscasset’s Help Yourself Shelf Food Pantry is at St. Phillips Church on Hodge Street. However, there’s less of the helping yourself going on now with Covid-19. The Pantry volunteers pre-box food for families of two, four, or six. Gretchen Burleigh-Johnson of the Pantry reported 100 meals were distributed each of the first two weeks. Distributions are on Thursdays at 5 p.m.

“We use it all. Nobody is left wanting,” Burleigh-Johnson said. “We’ve seen an increase in young families coming to the Pantry and a decrease in the number of seniors. I think the weather has impacted the ability of seniors to get to us. We have offered to deliver, but no we’ve had no takers yet.”

At Boothbay Region Food Pantry at the Congregational Church of Boothay Harbor, Fleet Davies reports an increase in the number of Loving Meals requested last week – and probably more this week.

“Andy Burt reached out to see how many servings we would need,” Davies said. “That first week I said 30; I didn’t know – I guess I just didn’t ask the right questions! – the meals would arrive hot … The folks picking up food said the aroma was amazing. Last week it was beef stew, and the Hootenanny rolls were warm and smelled delicious!”

Davies requested 40 bags last week. This Friday, April 24, he is considering 50. “It’s hard to know how many meals to request because families/clients can come to the Pantry every four weeks, so there are new clients every Friday,” Davies explained.

Over these first two weeks, the pantry served 60 families, 30 each Friday.

Davies said BRFP is distributing differently, too. A list of the groceries available each week is at an outdoor table. Clients take one and select which items they need from their cars. The lists are then brought to a downstairs window of the church where a pantry volunteer photographs it and sends it to a computer for a printed voucher. List items are called out to the two volunteers gathering the items in the pantry. The boxes of food go out to the table and the family name is called out for pick up.

“We are so grateful to Heather, Andy, the crews and farms …,” said Davies. “And, I can attest to how delicious the microgreen salad with balsamic dressing is; we had one left over. I tried it. I looked the Morning Dew Farm up online and found out it offers seedlings for sale. It’s just terrific!”

Just going into the third week of Loving Meals, Burt is already wondering what an infrastructure would have to look like to sustain the program post-crisis. How feasible would that be? Will there be too many moving parts?

“Part of it is wait and see,” said Burt. “And if we know this is what we want to do, how do we do it? There are hours the Co-op kitchen and the upstairs community kitchen space (built by the Farm to Table program) are not in use. I think there’s enough interest; and … if the right people sit down to talk about how to make Loving Meals sustainable … I don’t think we’d be doing anybody any favors by just slapping something together.”

Right now, there are more immediate concerns like how to use all of the root vegetables still in abundance. Burt said Salty Boyz has a smoker and people were saying smoked carrots are a great side dish.

Hootenanny Bread and Morning Dew Farm have made donations to the meals. This week, Rising Tide bought items from other local farms including Stonecipher and Goranson’s. And, Burt said, thanks to a generous donation, products from East Forty and Switchback farms were possible.

For more information, visit https://risingtide.coop

“I think there are talented people waiting in the wings who aren’t working right now who’d like to be involved,” said Burt. “And we’d love to hear from them for immediate participation or in taking things forward.”

Restaurant owners, food vendors, and farms who would like to be part of the conversation moving forward should contact Heather Burt at gm@risingtide.coop