Van Buren, ME to Rumford, RI
By Olivia Groell August 4, 2020
The Farmlink Project continues to partner with new communities in states across the U.S.—now we have helped deliver fresh produce to Rhode Island! To be more exact, we facilitated the delivery of 34,000 pounds of potatoes from LaJoie Growers in Van Buren, ME to We Share Hope in Rumford, RI on July 28th. This wasn’t our first time working with LaJoie Growers; this farm had already provided 200,000 pounds of potatoes to organizations in New York and Massachusetts, including two deliveries of 40,000 pounds of potatoes to The River Fund. Five members of The Farmlink Project team attended the delivery: Peter DiGiovanni, Cam DiGiovanni, Sophie Bymark, Jacob Dudley, and Hannah Dudley (pictured above).
On July 29th, I spoke to Jay LaJoie, the Farm Business Manager for LaJoie Growers, as well as Cristina McKibbin, the Chief Operating Officer of We Share Hope. Although their jobs are quite different, they both described how deliveries like the one on July 28th help their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Jay, these deals “give the farm’s employees more labor hours,” since they package the food for The Farmlink Project, a very labor intensive job. They also “utilize the packaging” that they already have in their facilities. Jay appreciates “being compensated for some of the product and the packaging.” We Share Hope’s acquired food is typically donated to “churches and ministries,” according to Cristina, which are several of the 70 organizations the food bank partners with. This food is “freely given to them” to distribute to local communities in need.
To provide some background information about LaJoie Growers, it is a “fifth generation family farm” that encompasses about 1600 acres of agricultural land, according to Jay. They “grow potatoes, beets, carrots, and small grains on a rotation.” The farm has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic because two-thirds of their production goes to the food service and snack food industries. Jay described how the greatest effect the farm experienced was in selling their product to food service establishments. There was a “delay in sales” due to lack of demand. He also noted that even though there was “still a demand for snack food,” it was difficult for their partner processing facility to assemble employees. Even though LaJoie Growers is “still moving products to customers,” Jay said that the majority of the surplus potatoes that have been delivered to various food banks across the Northeast “would have gone to waste.” Through their alliance with The Farmlink Project, they have been able to “move [the potatoes] at a discounted price instead of throwing [them] away.”
How did we connect these potatoes to We Share Hope? The Farmlink Project found the food bank, contacted them, and eventually helped facilitate this delivery of surplus potatoes to We Share Hope. The food bank has a fascinating system of operation. They run a “weekly market,” called Hope Market, where they sell discounted items, including food and toiletries, in return for “donations.” These donations help the organization to finance the storage and distribution of food to their 70 partner organizations. Earlier on in the pandemic, the market closed temporarily, however, it is now open once again, and We Share Hope was fortunately able to transition into a “larger facility,” according to Cristina. This has enabled the food bank to increase the “market capacity.” Cristina said that Hope Market serves 600 families each week and estimated that the whole food bank distributes to 6,000 people each week in total.
You may be wondering what We Share Hope was doing in between the closure of their previous facility and the opening of their new one. The answer: assisting those who were struggling to access food. Cristina described how early on in the pandemic, We Share Hope experienced a “dramatic surge in donations” due to restaurant closures. The organization was receiving six tractor trailers a week of donations! This food differed from what they received before the pandemic, as Cristina said that they began to receive “highly valuable food” like meat. During this time, We Share Hope assisted the elderly, who were vulnerable, as they were advised against leaving their homes. The food bank partnered with city officials from East Providence, Central Falls, and Bristol in order to have three food giveaways. They served 2,000 senior citizens. We Share Hope also utilized a refrigerated truck they own to have food giveaways in a school parking lot that the City of Warren allowed them to use. They did all they could to help the people facing food insecurity in their area.
Cristina emphasized how other “smaller organizations” benefit from donors giving large donations to food banks like We Share Hope that contain a warehouse to store large quantities of food. This way, they can distribute the quantity of food to individual food pantries that they are able to take. According to Cristina, We Share Hope is committed to “taking everything and anything” and either keeping it for the market or handing it over to “smaller organizations” that can “get it to those in need.” Cristina highlighted how essential teamwork and communication has been during the past months: “together we are stronger.” You can learn more about We Share Hope here.