It’s not as simple as it looks
It shouldn’t be hard to feed someone who’s hungry, but everything comes with its own distinct set of challenges -- no matter how charitable the act. One problem that plagues soup kitchens, larger government-run food banks, and smaller, community-run food pantries all too often is storage. Not having adequate refrigeration or freezer space is a big reason why many don’t receive as much fresh produce as they need, according to Richard VanVranken. An agricultural agent at Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County, New Jersey, VanVranken has been working with vegetable farmers and food banks for 35 years.
“If you get a case of lettuce and you don’t have refrigeration, you’ve got a couple hours to get that out or else it’s gonna start going bad, [not to mention] it may have come from a rejected load,” he says, meaning it’s already not top-quality.
Then, if it is “fresh and wholesome” and you don’t have proper refrigeration, “it may not fit into the cycle of when people are coming to get the produce,” he adds. “So you need to scramble and find a home for it, or else it ends up getting dumped.”
Another big issue is accessibility. VanVranken notes, “[Those who are] most in need of good healthy foods either don’t know what the products are, they don’t have the capacity to store them or prepare them, or even the right knowledge.”
For this reason, Forier-Montes tries to grow crops with which people are familiar. Felicia’s winter season consists of leafy greens (spinach, all the brassicas like turnips, cabbage, and brussel sprouts, and cauliflower) and the summer season is all about melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, squash, and more. “We serve a soup kitchen that’s predominantly Latino and black, and some people just don’t have the pleasure of just being able to look up a recipe or look up what something is, you know. So I really don’t want that to be a barrier when someone gets our produce,” she says.