Strawberry Month, Interview with Brooke Johnson

May 29, 2013
by Brooke Johnson, Jessica Hager

May is National Strawberry Month and many Feeding America food banks have received their first round of strawberry donations over the last several weeks. Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County benefits annually from the plentiful strawberry harvests that take place near (and even next door) to their Food Bank. Last year alone, they provided 385,630 pounds of donated strawberries to their Santa Cruz County neighbors in need.

The following interview by Jessica Hager of our Nutrition team features Brooke Johnson, Chief Operations and Programs Officer with Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County, and the wonderful partnerships they have with farmers around strawberries and nutrition education.

Jessica Hager: Brooke, thank you for joining me today! As you know, May is National Strawberry Month and so as June quickly approaches, I would love to learn more about the role of strawberries and other "Foods to Encourage"* at the Food Bank. To begin, how would you describe the strawberry donations this season that are coming to the Food Bank?

Brooke Johnson: In our local growing area we just started to get strawberries this month. We are located directly next to a strawberry field, so there are people working in harvest 6-7 days each week and the donations are definitely flowing. In addition to the farmer next door and other local farmers making direct donations, our largest strawberry donor is Driscoll's Berries. They were founded in the area and have been a longtime supporter of the Food Bank. (Check out their website for MyPlate ideas and recipes incorporating strawberries.)

Jessica: This is such a great time of year for the Food Bank when it comes to produce. What creative recipe ideas do you promote within your nutrition education initiatives?

Brooke:This really is a great time of year and people really seem to appreciate the fresh produce. Strawberries, in particular, are very popular and so it doesn't take much to get people involved in eating them — even kids. We do however take the popularity of strawberries to introduce nutrition tips and recipes incorporating other Foods to Encourage. For example, each month we roll out a new recipe and corresponding food demonstrations at "Passion for Produce," a bilingual peer education program. The recipes are also shared with agencies for their food distributions.

We aim to promote less familiar or popular items at the food distributions so individuals and families can learn new ways of preparing a fun and tasty dish. In addition, we have promoted the following "berry" recipes:

  • Berry Smoothies: donated berries; low- or non-fat dairy (i.e., milk or yogurt); cup of ice
  • Strawberry Salad: dark, leafy greens (i.e., spinach or arugula); sliced almonds; sliced strawberries; a drizzle of balsamic vinegar dressing
  • Adapted Rice Pudding (Chia Seed Pudding): Chia seeds; coconut milk; sliced strawberries
  • Strawberry Salsa (a great way to incorporate fruit and veggies into protein)

Our involvement with the local Strawberry Commission has also connected the Food Bank with their recipe page.

Jessica: I also understand that the Food Bank's "Passion for Produce" program works with farm workers around nutrition education. Would you please share more about this wonderful program?

Brooke: "Passion for Produce" reaches out to farm workers, and actually over 60% of participants are farm workers and their families. We continue to grow our partnerships with various ranches and their owners to ensure that workers receive the resources they need once the season comes to a close. One of the largest Driscoll's growers in the area hosts a Wellness Fair each year for their employees and so we recently were in attendance. During this time we provided CalFresh (SNAP) outreach and application assistance, while also sharing information regarding food distributions and nutrition education.

Jessica: Thank you for taking the time to share these efforts of the Food Bank with me today. I hope that this year's spring and summer harvest prove fruitful, and thank you again for helping to provide increased access and nutrition to healthful products for your neighbors in the Santa Cruz County area.

Note: Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County sources nearly 70% produce from their total annual product. 90% of their product is considered part of the "Foods to Encourage" framework.

*In June 2012, Feeding America adopted a "Foods to Encourage" (F2E) standard to measure nutritional quality of the food distributed through the Feeding America network. Of the nearly 3.4 billion pounds of groceries Feeding America distributed in 2012, 67 percent were categorized as F2E. We continue to refine this measurement as we look for new ways to source and distribute healthier foods and promote nutrition and wellness to the people and communities we serve.




Tags: Produce , California , Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County

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