Food Gatherers becomes "Super Carrots" at the Westside Farmers Market

Borden - Tyena Lyons at the Super CArrots booth

The Westside Farmers Market runs June-September in Zingerman’s Roadhouse parking lot (on the corner of Jackson and Maple) on Thursdays 3-7 pm. I am an active volunteer with the market and provide an insider view of the establishment.

This past March, Missy Orge, Director of Outreach and Training for Food Gatherers, reserved a spot at the Westside Farmers Market to sell vegetables under the name, “Super Carrots,” as part of their Community Kitchen Job Training Program (CKJTP). Seeds were planted, earth was watered, the sun shone down, and plants began to grow, and grow, and grow.

Borden - Super Carrots!Thursday’s market was a shining sunny day to welcome Tyena Lyons, Patti Ramos (intern from the School of Public Health), and Missy Orge to our rows of tents and tables selling carrots, cabbages, tomatoes, and broccoli. The vegetables were harvested that morning from the 8 raised beds at the Gathering Farm in front of the Food Gatherers warehouse on Carrot Way.

As you may recall, Food Gatherers exists to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community. In 2005, they implemented the Job Training Program for youth (ages 17-21) who work for 6 weeks to learn marketable skills in the food industry. In 2007, Food Gatherers began offering paid internships to the stellar graduates of the program.

Tyena Lyons is one of those stellar graduates. Lyons describes her experience, “the job training program here at Food Gatherers is great to bring the kids off of the street in the community that have been dealing with drugs, that have been abandoned, that have parental problems…the students are happy because they can come to someone who shows them love.”

Lyons mans the booth at the market on Thursdays and she also assists Chef Ellen at the Delonis Center with the current students in the training program. The current class of students started with 14 and there are now 11 students. This attrition is not uncommon, Orge explains, “a lot of people come into the job training program thinking it is easy and fun, but they have to be there every day… But we especially chose Tyena for this project, so she can be the face of Food Gatherers.”

Super Carrots will be at the market every Thursday until the end of September.

Food Gatherers: Rockin for the Hungry 2009 breaks records

This was sent out from Food Gatherers about their Rockin for the Hungry event! Thank you to everyone who helped make such a great thing possible!

Borden - Food Gatherers mission statement sign

The banner states the Food Gatherers mission statement.

Corinna Borden | Contributor

Despite a challenging economy, the community helped Food Gatherers raise a record amount of food for their largest annual outdoor food drive, Rockin’ for the Hungry. Hosted by Busch’s Fresh Food Market and broadcast live by ann arbor’s 107one, the five day event raised 258 tons of food to help our neighbors in need in Washtenaw County. Volunteers and radio personalities braved long hours on their feet, and at times, frigid weather to collect food and financial contributions for Food Gatherers’ food rescue and food bank program. Through their efforts and generous contributions from sponsors Frito Lay, General Mills, Golden Limousine, Inc., IBEW Local 252, Keebler, Miller Poultry, Prairie Farms, SESI Motors, Spartan, United Bank and Trust, and Wells Fargo Advisors, this event exceeded the 2009 Rockin’ goal of 200 tons and raised the most food in Rockin’ history.

This generous support allows Food Gatherers to meet the urgent and pressing demand for food in our own community. “On behalf of all the people seeking food assistance this year, we are so grateful to ann arbor’s 107one, Busch's and the citizens of Washtenaw County for making a real difference in our community,” said Eileen Spring, President and CEO of Food Gatherers. “When we needed you most, you rose to the challenge."

For individuals who did not make it to Rockin’, Busch’s Fresh Food Market will continue to accept financial contributions at the register or food donations at any of Busch’s 15 locations through Dec. 13.

I am thankful for Food Gatherers

Thanksgiving is a day of rejoicing - of gratitude for a plentiful harvest. At least in my house, there is a bit of a frantic energy around the holiday - “Who is in charge of getting a good turkey?” “How many high chairs are we going to need?” “Can everyone eat a shrimp appetizer?” There are people in our community not having these discussions. Their Thanksgiving dinners will be chosen for them. They do not have the resources to host it themselves. It is these individuals, our neighbors, Food Gatherers works everyday to support.

Borden - Food Gatherers front entrance

Thanksgiving is a day dedicated to thinking about and eating food. For some their next meal is not a source of excitement or anticipation - it is a nagging pit of potential despair. As Mary Schlitt, Director of Development, tells me “the need is always constant, it is daily.” Food Gatherers works to alleviate the daily torment of hunger for our Washtenaw County neighbors - and I was recently able to learn more about this ballast in our food community.

When Food Gatherers moved into their new location in 2003 they choose “to be outrageous” with their mascot - the carrot - says a smiling Mary Schlitt. In front of the very light and bright food warehouse are eight HUGE carrots - a beacon of cheerfulness as one approaches their building on Carrot Way.

It is important to be cheerful as one works to change the very sobering food security statistics in our community. There is a 35% rise in demand in aid over last year, Washtenaw County has the highest cost of living in the state, and Michigan is mired in 15.3% unemployment.

Food Gatherers started as a food rescue organization in 1988 with one staff member and a borrowed vehicle. Now over 5000 volunteers work to transport an average of 7 tons of food a day in their fleet of five trucks. I am told by Eric Marria, Volunteer Coordinator, “many of our full time staff started out as volunteers.”

Borden - Volunteers at Delonis Center

Food Gatherers is able to receive food from USDA and large corporate donors as Washtenaw County’s food bank. Feeding America is a domestic program that works as a clearinghouse - matching donations and distributing them across the America’s network of food banks. Based on the demographics in Washtenaw County, Food Gatherers is able to receive a certain amount of food. They are charged a nominal fee for shipping.

Primarily, Food Gatherers is a food rescue organization. The majority of food (70%) comes from over 300 local businesses donating food they are no longer able to sell. It is collected and redistributed to over 150 partners - such as Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels, the Ozone House, and the Community Kitchen at the Delonis Center. As Eric Marria pointed out to me, “we live in a very generous community, but it is not good business practice to have extra food at the end of the day to donate or get rid of - as inventory and tracking systems get smarter and better - there is going to be less and less supply. We are going to have to buy more.”

According to the 2009 Food Gatherers’ Food Security Plan in the last four years 200% more food has been purchased to serve the partner agencies as demand has outpaced supply. “Part of the reason we started the garden was because we need some free food,” shared Eric. They broke ground on the Gathering Farm in the spring and produced over 21,000 pounds of produce. A portion of that produce went to Scott Rouback, who works in the Community Kitchen, and made over 195 gallons of tomato sauce - “for six weeks all I did was make tomato sauce, I loved it.” My 24 jars in the basement are in awe of such an accomplishment.

There are several ways you can help. Cold hard cash is always welcome - it is easily convenient, lightweight, and can go exactly where it is needed. Rockin’ for the Hungry, their largest outdoor food drive, is coming up from December 2-6 outside Busch’s on South Main. In addition to donating food you can donate your time.

You will meet all sorts of people when you volunteer - some have been donating their time for years, some are students working on their community service hours, there are shelter residents, lawyers, writers, elected representatives, and, even, me. I started volunteering in the Community Kitchen last September. I love being in a commercial kitchen, all of my home appliances have been supersized. The main skillet is 4 feet by 3 feet and holds food for 300 people - as Scott Rouback shared with me, “it is more fun than a snow blower!” Every week I looked forward to seeing the clients and the volunteers. However I must add this caveat - donating your time may result in friendships, beware.

Borden - Food Gatherers door handle

Food Gatherers “exists to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community.” As I read their mission the hopeful “perfect world” part of me feels it expresses a clarion call for their own extinction. I would miss my volunteering lunches, the beautiful warehouse, the whimsical carrot, and the amazing people who work there. Though, until that perfect day comes, people are hungry today, and we can help.

As I raise a glass in gratitude this Thanksgiving I will think of Food Gatherers - and of my neighbors, who have one fewer meal to worry about because of their work.

(For more pictures of Food Gatherers, watch this video they made over the summer!)

Here is the link to the article on annarbor.com!