Flowers for All

Blog by: Jacqueline Williams 

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Food For All students delivering flower donations to Not Bread Alone.

At Food For All, we dedicate ourselves to fulfilling our mission of working with local relief organizations to recover and deliver locally grown produce to the surrounding community. In doing so, we hope to provide easier access to fresh, healthy food to those who would not have access otherwise. We strongly believe that everyone should have enough food to sustain themselves through their daily activities and that having the power to make choices in what you are eating is important.

One organization we work closely with is CHD’s Not Bread Alone, a program that distributes donated grocery items every Saturday and that provides free community meals three days a week. Part of our connection to Not Bread Alone is volunteering at the facility outside of our deliveries to them. By participating in that part of the process, we are able to actively see how the work we do impacts real people in our community. One experience that has really stuck with me in its impact is when we brought and distributed flowers to one of NBA’s Saturday dinners.

We spent the morning in the Food For All garden searching for, picking, and trimming the best flowers we could find. By the end, we had found ourselves with a few buckets stuffed with a lovely variety of zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, and sunflowers. After gathering some of them up into bouquets and picking up the vegetables we were planning to deliver that day, we packed the truck and we went.

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From left to right: Jackie Williams, Kayleigh Boucher, and Braden Leinhart making mini bouquets for Not Bread Alone patrons. 

Upon arrival, we set up our table full of bouquets, loose flowers (so people could make their own bunches as they please), and food for donation. Not Bread Alone patrons came up one-by-one, taking their choice of flowers as they left. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to see the joy that something as simple as flowers brought. Our aim for this was to bring something beautiful to our community members, in hopes that it would brighten their day (even in the slightest).

The smiles and the warmth in the room spoke for itself. 10/10 times, I would relive this experience and help out again. I learned just how important it is to think more about the things that I may sometimes take for granted, and to never underestimate how much you can make a difference. Bringing something beautiful to those who may not always have access to the luxury of flowers is a really great thing to do, because everyone deserves flowers, regardless of socioeconomic status.

To support Not Bread Alone through donations or volunteering, or to access their resources available to all, visit their website. 

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Zinnias grown in the Food For All garden for donation to Not Bread Alone. 

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Sweet Potato Gleaning Effort

Blog by: Melissa Bonaccorso, Fall 2018 Food For All Student 

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(From left to right) Melissa Bonaccorso, Braeden Leinhart, Dan Bensonoff, Courtney Spera, and Michi with 500 lbs of gleaned sweet potatoes from Joe Czajkowski Farm.

In late October, a group of Food for All and UMass Permaculture members had the pleasure of gleaning sweet potatoes from Joe Cjakowski Farm in Amherst. Gleaning is the process of going to a farm and collecting produce that might not be high enough quality for the farmer to sell, but is still good enough to eat. Kayleigh Boucher, Courtney Spera, Braeden Leinhart, Melissa Bonaccorso, Dan Bensonoff, and his three-year-old son, Michi, teamed up to glean 500 lbs of sweet potatoes within two hours! The veggies were used to benefit local efforts to serve those in need, such as Not Bread Alone and the Food For All Farmer’s Market which was hosted on November 9th.

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Student Kayleigh Boucher (pictured right) helping a community member sort through gleaned sweet potatoes to take home.

Despite rampant food insecurity in the United States, 30- 40% of food produced here is ultimately wasted. A good portion of this is produce that never even makes it to the grocery store and is simply left in the fields to rot. Often, this is due to the incredibly high standards we have about what our food should look like, which ultimately controls what is able to be sold. This can be partially attributed to how, collectively, our society experiences a tragic disconnect from our food.

As our gleaning operation kicked off, we were all immediately amazed at how much food we were able to collect. While it took some time to sift through crops that were on their way to retreating back into the soil, we were still able to retrieve a substantial amount of sweet potatoes from this field – many of which were funky fun shapes!

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Braden Leinhart, Sustainable Food and Farming Student at UMass, digging for sweet potatoes at Joe Czajkowski Farm.

Upon committing to this project, I admittedly was reluctant to waking up early on a Saturday to do this work. But my attitude was quickly turned around by the brisk autumn morning air, the quiet of the open field surrounded by the sight of the last several colored leaves still clinging to their branches, the brilliant attitudes of my companions, and the satisfaction that always comes with starting the day bright and early. Perhaps the most uplifting out of all of us was three-year-old Michi. I always find children to be an inspiring presence, because of how they help us look at the world and everything in it as a fresh experience and every task as a game. Michi gleefully searched alongside us for salvageable potatoes, and excitedly squealed “I FOUND ONE!” every several minutes, sometimes holding up potatoes as big as his head. With Michi by our side, the energy in the field was positive, and gleaning became a much better way to spend a Saturday morning than sleeping in. Aside from the fun of the work itself, it was eye-opening to connect more directly with the concepts of food waste and food security, and to see hands-on how these two issues could be addressed simultaneously if we were to take large-scale collective action.

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Michi, holding up a sweet potato he harvested.

We are incredibly grateful to Joe Cjakowski Farm for allowing us to come and collect food for donations. It is inspiring to be surrounded by a farming community in the Pioneer Valley that is dedicated not only to providing the area with healthy food, but also to working collaboratively with the community at large and helping to combat food insecurity.