Healthy Harvest Program distributes fresh food to pantries
Category: The Big Picture

Healthy Harvest Program distributes fresh food to pantries

Written by Ruth Williams, TCFDN Secretary, FBST Advisory Board Member, FDN volunteer, and anti-hunger advocate:

The Food Bank of the Southern Tier is a catalyst with the Tompkins County Food Distribution Network (TCFDN) working with local hunger relief efforts. The TCFDN is a coalition of fifteen food pantries, soup kitchens, and organizations that work with low-income households. One goal of the Food Bank is to provide greater access to quality seasonal fresh-picked produce that provides the highest nutritional value and getting it into the hands of the individuals and families who need it the most.  It just makes sense.  This is where the Healthy Harvest Program comes in, and none too soon!

The complex issues anti-hunger agencies and advocates address on a daily basis while considering the importance of supporting the agricultural food system is no small undertaking. The 2014 kick-off of the  Healthy Harvest pilot project, operated through the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, successfully served over 117 tons of regionally grown fresh produce to the lower six-county span in the Southern Tier, including Tompkins County. The TCFDN will receive the benefit of this program again this summer and hopes to match or exceed 32,000 pounds that were distributed in the county last year.  We look forward to another great season educating, providing samples, and connecting individuals with recipes, cooking methods, and preservation tips and resources of fresh produce.

The Food Bank currently contracts with five farms and is supported, in part, by a grant from the Hussman Foundation. The participating farms are Addison Family Farms, in Addison NY; Benton Berries, in Penn Yan NY; Brennan Farm, in Avoca NY; Stoney Ridge Orchard, in Erin NY; and Reisingers Farm, in Watkins Glen NY. This is an important model that clearly is a win-win investment for NY agriculture and connecting it to the at-risk households we serve.

But one can’t simply address healthy seasonal produce without at least touching on donations that sustain us year-round along with food waste concerns.

Everyone involved with hunger relief considers usable food donations an important addition to assist food pantries and soup kitchen efforts. The United States is the global leader of this problem with forty percent of usable foods thrown into landfills and compost every year. We see hundreds of hungry families this food would help.

The Food Bank of the Southern Tier and the TCFDN work hard to educate and acquire usable donations that benefit our community.  The Friendship Donation Network (FDN) is a local food rescue organization that specifically works with local food retailers and farms to help connect and reduce edible food being wasted. These rescued foods are also provided within our network of local food pantries in Tompkins County and beyond.

It is important to note that not every local food retailer in Tompkins County provides discarded foods as donations even though they are completely protected under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996.  To hear usable fresh foods being pulled from the shelves, coolers, and deli counter and being thrown away in a dumpster seems somewhat surprising with all the progress we have made rising to the challenge of meeting the needs of our friends, family and neighbors.  I challenge all of you to start conversations about how we can change the conversation from “we can’t” to “we will” help these efforts.

Contact information:
Food Bank of the Southern Tier’s Healthy Harvest program, Melissa Knowles, Food Sourcing Manager 607-796-6028 or email or

Tompkins Country Food Distribution Network
Meaghan Sheehan Rosen, Friendship Donation Network, at

Ruth Williams at, 607-216-5035

Image credit: Photo courtesy of Ruth Williams

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *