By Francie Lin, GFN Writer-in-Residence I think everyone would rather forget the early pandemic days…
This fall, we launched a new food access program called the Red Bag Fresh Food Program: a subsidized farm share for low-income members of our community. The program was open to families with children in the local public schools who qualified for the free or reduced lunch program and to people who qualify for SNAP benefits. For 10 weeks, participants picked up a bag of fresh produce grown by Crimson & Clover Farm each Thursday afternoon at Jackson Street School. The cost to participants was $20 for $125 worth of fresh, local produce. Grow Food Northampton paid the balance of that to the farmers with the help of a grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and contributions by individual donors. The Jackson Street School PTO generously paid half the cost of the $20 fee for participants with children at their school.
In addition to the produce, we passed out recipes in English and Spanish based on the ingredients that were in the bags each week and did a cooking demonstration with samples (kale chips!). We even had participants submit favorite recipes that they had made from the bag’s contents.
We averaged 22-23 people picking up per week. Most had children in local schools, particularly Jackson Street School.
We surveyed participants, and their responses were overwhelmingly positive. 100% of respondents said they were Very Satisfied or Satisfied with the variety, quality, and quantity of the vegetable, and 94% indicated they were Very Satisfied or Satisfied with the program overall. 75% tried vegetables they had never eaten before, 94% said they thought their diet was healthier because of their participation, and 100% said they ate more vegetables due to the program. See the bar chart and comments from participants below.
We are grateful to our volunteers who helped deliver and distribute the food, and to the teachers and administrators at Jackson Street School, without whom this program would not have been possible! And we were pleased to partner with Families with Power, who provided volunteers and outreach support.
Right now, we are evaluating the program to see where we can improve to make the Red Bag Program even better next year. We are already talking to another school about expanding the program to two locations in 2017!