diary of a farmer

Harris Family Farm Foundation gets fresh produce to people in need

By / Photography By Billy Burdett | May 02, 2018
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With raised beds, ornamental plantings and spaces to sit and enjoy the surroundings, Harris Family Farm in Galien, MI, is set up much like a home garden with the goal of inspiring visitors to establish one of their own.

The fog is thick when I arrive. It diffuses the golden shafts of morning light coming through the trees, bathing vegetable beds in a warm, muted glow. Soon the whole farm will be baking in sunlight, but the cool fog affords me a few moments to soak up this glorious scene before getting to work.

Today is a harvest day, which means it’s also a donation day for Harris Family Farm Foundation in Galien, MI. Our mission is to support the dietary health of those in need in our region. Since June, we have grown and donated fresh, organic fruits and vegetables to food pantries, senior centers and organizations like Meals on Wheels of Southwestern Michigan. We learned that there’s also a role for us aggregating surplus produce from nearby farms. The organizations we work with then distribute the food to their clients.

After basking for another moment in the misty morning glory, I start my harvest routine, first cutting leafy greens like lettuce and Swiss chard, since they’re most susceptible to heat. I move to radishes and other root vegetables. I finish by picking Sungold cherry tomatoes, which love late-morning sun as it melts away the fog and cranks up the heat.

A client at Redbud Area Ministries food pantry in Buchanan, MI, gathers scallions and other donated produce to take home.

My first delivery is to Redbud Area Ministries’ food pantry in Buchanan, MI, which also serves smaller towns including Galien and New Troy. Some clients I saw during my last visit are there, and they gather to see what’s in the produce boxes this week. Spotting a fresh batch of hot cayenne peppers, a middle-aged gentleman excitedly gives me a play-by-play of a dish he prepared using peppers from our last delivery. We chat about the joys of hot peppers and our favorite ways to eat them. I notice extra pep in my step as I leave.

I’m struck by his familiarity and enthusiasm for the vegetables we bring. It makes me wonder how this jives with statistics in Be Healthy Berrien’s 2017 “From Our Fields to Our Tables” report, which revealed that 15.3% of Berrien County residents lack access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and a whopping 32.4% eat vegetables less than once a day.

The corresponding health statistics aren’t pretty, either: The prevalence of overweight and obese adults in Berrien County (72.4%) is higher than the rest of Michigan (64.1%), and the percentage of adults suffering from diet-related health problems such as diabetes and heart disease follows the same trend. While cost is predictably one of the barriers to a healthy diet, 56.2% of respondents indicated a lack of proximity to healthy foods, 23.2% said that they weren’t familiar with or didn’t care for them, and 13.4% said they didn’t have the ability to prepare them.

So, while folks I encounter on deliveries might face a cost barrier, they can get to distribution points, and most are familiar with the produce we donate. How do we reach the people who aren’t?

Olivia Harris carries a freshly harvested batch of Swiss chard to be weighed and donated to the River Valley Senior Center in Harbert, MI.

On my drive back, I’m struck by the disconnect between Berrien County’s bountiful landscape—which ranks fifth in Michigan for acres of vegetables harvested—and the number of people facing so many obstacles to eating fresh produce. As I pull into the farm’s driveway, some of the Harris kids are out picking string beans and green peppers. These kids love their fruits and vegetables and have been a huge help harvesting and delivering our produce.

I think of the kids who don’t have the opportunity to eat fruits and vegetables grown at home. At Harris Family Farm Foundation, we want to address that lack of access, know-how and interest with fun programs and collaboration with local organizations. We’re planning cooking demonstrations, school presentations and field trips that explore the intersections between sustainable agriculture, health and the environment.

We’re building a pizza oven so visiting groups can participate in growing and eating the farm’s bounty. With Abra Berens, chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, MI, we’re developing cards with simple recipes and nutrition basics to accompany the produce we donate. We’re talking with leaders in local food and public health about ways to get good food to those lacking access, and a grant program is in the works for related projects.

Back in the vegetable beds, 10-year-old Charlie Harris and I water a freshly seeded patch of cilantro. We talk about soil nutrients and jokingly debate whether cilantro tastes like soap.

It’s hard to ignore the feeling that something much bigger is being planted.

Food—growing it, cooking it, eating it—has an amazing way of bringing us together. As the sun slips behind the trees at the west end of the farm, I look forward to more days like today, sharing the joys of good food with visitors of all ages, and inspiring them to cook a healthy meal or plant a garden of their own.

Harris Family Farm Foundation’s first year

  • 800 pounds of produce grown
  • 2,400 pounds of produce donated (includes surplus from neighboring farms)
  • 13,600 servings of produce distributed to people in need

Get involved

  • Volunteer at the farm.
  • Donate supplies such as seeds, wood chips, trellising, compost and produce boxes.
  • Help Harris Family Farm Foundation connect with schools, institutions and organizations in the region for classroom presentations, field trips, cooking demonstrations and other collaborations.

Harris Family Farm Foundation

2077 W. Warren Woods Rd.
Galien, MI

Article from Edible Michiana at http://ediblemichiana.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/harris-family-farm-foundation
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