March 29, 2012
by Jaspreet Bindra

Jaspreet Bindra is the Programs Specialist here at Feeding America specializing in mobile pantries. She recently made a visit to Raleigh, NC and our member Inter-faith Food Shuttle. This is the first part of a series where she talks about her visit.

What a pleasure it was to visit Inter-faith Food Shuttle in Raleigh, NC and have the opportunity to meet the wonderful staff, tour the facility, check out their fabulous kitchen & community garden, have a chat with the Executive Director, Jill Staton Bullard all before hitting the road to see their Teaching Farm and Medical Mobile Distribution.

Perhaps we should start from the beginning for those who don't know Inter-faith Food Shuttle's history. They are one of the original Feeding America FRO's (Food Rescue Operations) located on the NC state land that hosts North Carolina's largest Famers Market. As you can imagine, produce is a big part of their operation and in Jill Staton Bullard's words, "produce is what we do." In FY 2011, Interfaith distributed almost 2.5 million pounds of produce out of a total distribution of approximately 6 million pounds — 41 percent of all product distributed by Inter-faith is produce!

Needless to say getting fresh produce out to the clients in their community is a big priority for Inter-faith. The warehouse I saw is relatively small compared to others in the network but the large amounts of produce distribution does not allow for large warehouse space since the fresh food needs to be in and out. More often than not, the produce doesn't even come into the warehouse. It's picked up from the Farmers Market and driven directly to agencies or agencies bring their vehicles to get the produce and get it out their clients as fast as possible to preserve freshness and reduce spoilage. Produce and mobile distribution model go hand in hand to get the product out fast. In Fiscal Year 11, 20 percent of Inter-faith's entire distribution was done via the mobile distribution model. Naturally, as a Programs Specialist with a focus on mobile pantry programs, I was keen to see this work in action.

Kia Baker, Director of Food Recovery & Distribution, was kind enough to show me around for the day. Tradell, administrator and routing software engineer, also came along with us and provided an interesting perspective on coordinating all the deliveries and modernizing their software to increase efficiency. Our first stop was the Teaching Farm sponsored by Inter-faith. Neal Wisenbaker, Farm Manger, describes the farm in the video below. In addition, there is an apprenticeship program for high school students as well as Young Farmer Training Program for younger students interested in farming. The Young Farmer Training Program runs in the summer for 3 days a week, 6 hours/day. A small weekly stipend is provided for the participants. In 2011, there were 9 students who graduated from the program. Besides teaching students farming skills, the program emphasis entrepreneurial skills to help students start their own business like a food truck, composting operation, fertilizer development, etc.

We also got a tour of their greenhouse where a hydroponic pond is in the works to raise tilapia. The farm also had two bee colonies, a chicken coop and an area for the newly arrived goats that are trained to clear all shrubbery on the edge of the farm. We saw and learned about compost and how it turns into fertilizer. The farm tries to use all the by-product to replenish the same land. It was great to see that the Teaching Farm is housed on 2 acres which is not large by farming standards but it's not the space that matters; it is the impact of the work that stuck out in my mind. Young people learning farming and connecting with the land in way their parents maybe never did was something special to see. Inter-faith is working tirelessly to provide for its communities as well as sowing seeds of change in the young generation.

Next up, Jaspreet talks about her visit to a medical mobile distribution site.


Tags: Food Bank Network , North Carolina , Inter-Faith Food Shuttle

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