New Anti-Hunger Initiative Buys Directly From Local Farms
A Bowdoin alumnus is leading a new project with the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program to buy food directly from local farms to help feed people in need.
When Ryan Ravenscroft ’99 moved back to Brunswick in 2017 with his wife, Courtney Mongell Ravenscroft ’01, he wanted a career change. He left a fourteen-year banking career in Boston and took a position with the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP) to fulfill his dream of sustaining farms while helping to feed his neighbors.
"I took a job here in part because I got to work with farmers," he said recently via a Zoom call. "It was always my plan to figure out ways to support farmers and the farm community."
He grew up on a beef cattle farm in western Pennsylvania, assisting with daily chores for his grandfather and father. And, as he grew up, he watched as his diversified farming community with its many small farms was gradually replaced by big soybean and corn producers. "I witnessed it as farms went from 500 acres to 100 acres, disappearing over two, three generations."
When the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic this year put additional strain on smaller farms—and made it more difficult to secure basic food items from grocery stores—MCHPP decided to take action on Ravenscroft's plan.
With support from donors and a $15,000 grant from The Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, the MCHPP has launched its new Farm to Pantry program. This season, it will buy forty thousand dollars' worth of fresh produce and protein directly from local farms.
In normal years, Ravenscroft noted, local farms give generously to MCHPP, donating "thousands of pounds of food" that enable the organization to serve about 5,000 clients a year. "They are so generous," he said. "They've been supporting their surrounding communities for so long." Now the nonprofit is stepping up to help support local farmers, who are navigating unpredictable shifts in consumer demand due to the pandemic.
To date, Ravenscroft has negotiated to buy food from five farms: Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick; Six River Farm in Bowdoinham; Stonecipher Farm in Bowdoinham; Two Coves Farm in Harpswell; and Whatley Farm in Topsham. They will provide MCHPP’s food bank and soup kitchen with carrots, tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables.
These farms, among others, are looking at an uncertain season. Demand from restaurants and hospitality businesses is down, and it's likely there will be fewer tourists and visitors this summer.
In addition, the pandemic has disrupted the MCHPP's normal supply chains, creating uncertainty for its model. So another important benefit of the Food to Pantry program is that it will help ensure a consistent stream of food in the months to come.
"As the effects of the coronavirus continue to ripple through our community, MCHPP is trying to plan ahead for our needs five to six months from now," Ravenscroft said. "These new partnerships supply MCHPP and local farmers with much needed support in the near future."
It's too early to know whether MCHPP can continue its "beta" Farm to Pantry program next year, Ravenscroft said, because that decision will largely be based on whether it can obtain enough donations for it. "We have the resources to operate the program through 2020, and if we continue to raise the funds, we will continue to buy the food from our farm partners."
He added: "I would love to continue to do it because my goal has always been to alleviate food insecurity and support local farms, farmers, and the whole ecosystem."
Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program provides hungry Mainers with access to healthy food, works to improve the quality of their lives by partnering with others, and serves them in a manner that recognizes their dignity. Services include prepared meals and grocery distribution on site, at local schools, and satellite locations in Harpswell and Lisbon Falls. The MCHPP food pantry—located at 12 Tenney Way, Brunswick—is open to the public on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.; Tuesday evenings 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.; and Saturdays from noon–3:00 p.m.; the Soup Kitchen serves freshly made-to-go meals on Mondays through Fridays from 11:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and Saturdays from noon–1:30 p.m. MCHPP is a recipient of the Service Enterprise Certificate, in recognition for its strong volunteer base, who work seven days a week.