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Local relief fund will help struggling farmers sell to food pantries during pandemic

Groundworks Center for Resilient Communities
Groundwork's Christina Barkel, who coordinates purchases for the Northwest Food Coalition's Farm to Neighbor program, packs bulk asparagus from Norconk Farm in the Food Rescue warehouse.

A new food relief fund in Northwest Michigan links farmers and food pantries, helping both persist through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local farmers are struggling to sell their produce right now, especially if they used to sell to schools, restaurants or farmers’ markets.

At the same time, demand at food pantries has grown.

In response, the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities created a local food relief fund to buy food directly from farmers and stock pantry shelves.

Their goal is to raise $30,000 by Tuesday, April 14.

To distribute the food, Groundwork is partnering with the Northwest Food Coalition of Traverse City, the Manna Food Project of Petoskey, and Food Rescue, which is part of Goodwill Industries of Northwest Michigan.

Collectively, those organizations are connected with hundreds of pantries across the region.

They’ve curated a list of products that food pantries want, and farmers might need to adjust what they’re growing, says Groundworks’ Director of Programs Meghan McDermott.

“If a grower had based their business around selling directly to consumers at the farmer's market, they might have had plans to grow, you know, purple bok choy and baby kale and a lot of things that maybe wouldn't be as familiar in a food pantry setting,” she says.

Groundworks is circulating an online survey for interested farmers. It asks what they were planning on growing and what they’re able to grow instead.

Since it’s early April, McDermott hopes there’s still time for them to switch things up.

“We might be able to help them still yet this year adjust their business plans, figure out how we can get them growing some products that pantries really wanna offer on their shelves,” she says.

McDermott says depending on the response they get from farmers, this could be the first of many rounds of fundraising.

Kaye LaFond
Kaye is an alumnus of Michigan Tech's environmental engineering program. She got her start making maps for the Traverse City-Based water news organization Circle of Blue, and, since then, she's been pretty devoted to science communication and data visualization.