Introducing… the Produce Access Program (part 2)

Did you miss part one? Click here to read it!

By Matt Talley, Produce Access Coordinator

After my initial visit to J.G. Townsend Jr. & Co., I wasn’t quite sure exactly what the outcome would be for the Food Bank. Speaking with the frozen foods processor was one of my first attempts to cultivate a better relationship with some of the producers in Kent and Sussex Counties. The meeting in Georgetown went well – the company had made some donations to the Food Bank in the past, and they were curious to hear more about our plans for sourcing more Delaware-grown produce in the future.

Everyone knows that farmers are the ones who grow our food. But that’s only part of the story, and what I learned at J.G. Townsend gave me a lot of insight into how our food system works. You see, there’s a lot of history behind that packet of frozen vegetables that’s might be sitting in your freezer. Let’s take lima beans for an example, since that’s one of the products processed at Townsend’s facility:

A lima bean farmer probably has access to the equipment required to till the earth, plant rows of seeds, fertilize and irrigate those rows, and ensure that pests don’t completely eradicate the crop. But that same farmer may depend on another party when it comes time to actually harvest the lima beans and make them ready for market. Many farmers do not own the equipment required to harvest their crop, let alone to separate out all the leafy matter, stems and other field material picked up by the harvester. The crop then needs to be rinsed, packaged and distributed…lots of additional steps before the product is finished and ready for the market.

Due to these challenges, your typical lima bean farmer is likely to contract with a processor. This frees up the farmer to focus on farming and allows the processor to work with a number of different growers to source their raw materials – lima beans straight out of the fields! Now, there isn’t a very large window when lima beans are ready to harvest. For this reason, it’s easier to clean and freeze the beans while they’re still fresh, and then finish the process to package and distribute them after the peak harvest period. This gives the processor more time to finish producing a market-ready product when they’re not busy harvesting, cleaning, blanching and freezing the beans fresh off the field.

20150210_135610 web Here’s where things get really interesting…have you ever heard of a color sorter? No? Me either. Let’s back up a little bit. If you’ve ever had a home vegetable garden, then you’ve probably ended up with the occasional weird looking tomato, mutant strawberry or extra curly cucumber. While it doesn’t match what you would expect to find in the grocery store, there’s nothing really wrong with it. It’s still edible, it’s still nutritious, and it still tastes good.

Lima beans are the same way, but in terms of color. Sometimes they come out a little bit brownish or greyish looking. A color sorter is exactly what it sounds like – a large piece of equipment that sorts items based on very exact color specifications. Grocers don’t want to carry something that looks different, so the processing industry uses color sorting to ensure uniformity of appearance in their products.

But what happens to all the rest of it? Where do the slightly brown or grey lima beans go? That’s what I was hoping to capture, a stream of perfectly fresh, good-tasting and nutritious product that never hits the market because of a slight variation in color.

20150209_135902 webThe Food Bank had just purchased a vacuum sealer, and this would be the perfect test case! If the processing plant was able to donate just one or two totes, we could develop a process to repackage, vacuum seal and distribute them to families to need.

A couple of weeks after our initial meeting, I opened up my laptop and received an email that blew my mind. J.G. Townsend Jr. & Co. had conducted an inventory and wanted to donate 29 totes of black-eyed peas, green peas and lima beans. If you picture the blocks that make up the pyramids, you’ll get a rough idea of how big a tote of frozen vegetables is. Each one weighs about 1,400 pounds, so J.G. Townsend was contributing about 40,000 pounds of fresh, Delaware-grown produce to the fight against hunger!

The next morning, we sent the first of three trucks down to Georgetown to collect the donation. The totes were loaded into refrigerated box trucks to prevent the frozen vegetables from thawing out on the trip back to the Food Bank’s warehouse in Newark and then into a large commercial freezer to await the next step.20150120_150330 web

Each tote basically consists of a large cardboard box, lined with blue plastic on the inside and sitting on a wooden pallet. Since this product was never intended for market, it was never packaged. Instead, it sits loose inside the tote’s liner in bulk form. One at a time, these totes are taken to the makeshift production line in the Food Bank’s Volunteer Room, where volunteers bag up the contents in 6”x10” pouches. The bags are placed into coolers to ensure proper temperature control while they await the vacuum sealer. Once they are sealed, labels are affixed to the bags with information about the product, the Food Bank’s address and cooking instructions. Volunteers take the now finished bags and pack them into cases before they are brought back into the freezer for temporary storage.

This generous donation of produce will provide hungry Delawareans with nutritionally-rich, calorically- dense food to help them stretch their food budgets and keep their stomachs from going hungry. Unfortunately, fresh produce isn’t always easy to sell to low-income customers…even if it’s free. Nutrition education is essential to increase awareness of the health benefits associated with consuming fresh fruits and vegetables. To this end, the Food Bank’s Community Nutrition Educators seek to educate and encourage clients through onsite cooking demonstrations, handouts including recipes and preparation tips and other forms of nutritional guidance. Each package of frozen vegetables from this example will be distributed with a nutritional profile and recipes to help families to make the most out of what they receive.

20150210_135837 webIn a broad sense, programs such as the Food Bank’s Produce Access Program are necessary to not only improve access, but also to help stimulate demand for produce grown in Delaware among more Delawareans. By providing supporting educational resources along with access and availability, we can help lower the risks of diet-related health concerns such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. By working with partners such as the Delaware Department of Agriculture, the Delaware Farm Bureau and the counties’ Cooperative Extensions, we can help to create more economic opportunities for the agricultural community to sell their products within the state. And with the help of community efforts such as the Delaware Urban Farm and Food Coalition and The Food Trust’s Wilmington Cornerstore Initiative, we can change the landscape of our local food economy. After all, doesn’t it just stand to reason that fresh food should be eaten where it’s grown?

If you are a farmer or producer who would like to donate to the Food Bank or for more information about the Produce Access Program, please contact Matthew Talley at (302) 292-1305 ext 249 or

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Introducing… The Produce Access Program

By Matt Talley, Produce Access Coordinator

“New CastleIMG_7835 County straddles I-95 and the Boston-Washington Corridor, which is the most densely populated and urbanized area of the country.” I was explaining our state’s unique geography to Bob Branham, a fellow food banker visiting Delaware from the Twin Cities. “Wilmington and the entire Delaware River Valley are basically part of the Greater Philadelphia Area,” I continued, “but once you cross over the C&D Canal you’re into farmland.”

Bob smiled wryly. He serves as the Director of the Produce Capture Institute (PCI), a peer learning initiative that helps food banks develop better relationships with the agricultural community. We were driving downstate on a sunny day in January to try to accomplish exactly that.

Most Delawareans are familiar with the geographical division between upper and lower Delaware –New Castle County is home to most of the state’s population and composed of mainly urban and suburban areas, and Kent and Sussex Counties are characterized primarily by agriculture. Despite the large amount of fresh food produced downstate, however, a large number of residents still suffer from insufficient access to fresh food. The question on our minds as Bob and I drove over the canal was, “What can we do to redirect some of that locally-grown produce to Delawareans in need?”

Last fall, when the Food Bank launched a new initiative to provide better more fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income households, I immediately jumped on board. Entitled the “Produce Access Program,” this initiative shifts the organization toward a more proactive food sourcing strategy and commits additional resources to ensure a better, more consistent supply of produce. As the Food Bank’s Produce Access Coordinator, my job to actively encourage farmers to donate produce as part of a mutually beneficial arrangement based on tax benefits, cost-sharing, spoilage reduction, and increased public awareness for Delaware farms.

That trip downstate with Bob was just one small step in an ongoing effort to reach out to stakeholders in the agricultural community, but it turned out to be a lucrative one. First, we stopped off at the Department of Agriculture in Camden to deliver a brief overview of the new plan. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee and Deputy Principal Assistant Holly Porter have been vital in their support of the Food Bank, and the Department plays an integral role to improve statewide distribution of agricultural products and ensure better access for all Delawareans.

Next, we met with watermelon producer and farm-to-school advocate Dave Marvel, a key partner and longtime hunger relief advocate of hunger relief who shared his insights from a farming perspective. Dave joined us as we continued to Georgetown to sit down with representatives from J.G. Townsend Jr. & Co., a frozen foods processor who has provided jobs in community for over half a century. Our hosts were polite and warm as we painted a picture of the Food Bank, described our goals and capabilities, discussed the company’s production process, and even offered a tour of the processing facility.

Our group felt optimistic as we pulled away from Race Street in Georgetown, but we were still unsure of exactly what the outcome would be from our meeting with the processors. Were they able to see the value in our proposal?

Any uncertainty, however, soon faded as J.G. Townsend Jr. & Co. contacted the Food Bank with a donation of approximately 40,000 pounds of black eyed peas, green peas and lima beans!

This generous donation is a powerful example of how the agricultural industry can help to fill a tremendous void by providing hungry Delawareans with a source of high-quality, nutritious and locally-grown fruits and vegetables. The nutritional benefits of increased access to fruits and vegetables significantly decrease the risk of diet-related diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Issues of produce access and availability will persist in our low-income communities, but these partnerships are vital to creating the conditions that will ultimately lead to success in the fight against hunger.

If you are a farmer or producer who would like to donate to the Food Bank or for more information about the Produce Access Program, please contact Matthew Talley at (302) 292-1305 ext.249 or

Stay tuned for Part Two to learn how the Food Bank distributes 40,000 pounds of frozen vegetables…

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Culinary Student Spotlight: Andre Coston

Andre ColstonThe Newark culinary class is currently in week five of fourteen, but student Andre Coston is already looking forward to his two-week internship starting in week 12 and full-time employment upon graduation.

After being laid off from his position at a local nonprofit as an assistant clinician, Andre learned about the training opportunity through the Department of Labor. He was thankful to have received a scholarship to attend the program.

“I liked what I did before, but I didn’t love it,” he said. “I really love to cook, so I am ready for a career change. I came to the realization at 42 years old, that until it is time to retire, I will pursue a career in the culinary field.”

So far, Andre has learned about basic kitchen skills such as knife handling, time and temperature.

His newly-developed skills will not only help him gain future employment, but are helping now  in his day-to-day life. He currently cares for his 90-year-old grandfather.

“His wife passed away in August, so he is very dependent on me,” he explained. “He doesn’t walk and goes to dialysis three times a week. I cook all of his meals. He loves my cooking.”

Some of his favorite dishes to prepare include lasagna and anything with seafood.

“After graduation I want to be somewhere where there is room for growth and where I can learn and move up to an executive chef – that is my goal – to be an executive chef in a hotel or a fine dining establishment,” he said.

Until then, Andre is focused on learning more in class and upgrading his skills.

To learn more about The Culinary School, please visit



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Become ServSafe® Certified at the Food Bank of Delaware

0223_ServSafe01By Gwen Guerke, Communications Coordinator

Starting last month, the Food Bank of Delaware began offering ServSafe® food manager training to the general public. It’s the first time the instructor-led program has been provided for students not enrolled in The Culinary School.

The second of 12 classes was held today at the Milford facility.

Offered in both English and Spanish, the ServSafe® Food Protection Manager Certification meets Delaware law’s requirements of demonstration of Food Safety knowledge. The nationally-recognized certification includes training on personal hygiene, cross contamination, time and temperature, receiving and storage and food safety management systems

During their lunch break, students had an opportunity to reflect on the morning’s work.

Cindy, a Dover resident, was impressed by the course content.

“It’s a tremendous amount of information,” she said.

The students spend six hours in class, and then they take a two-hour exam at the end of the day.

Patty, a Georgetown restaurant owner, closed her business for the day so that she and her two co-workers could attend the training.

“Getting the book ahead is very helpful. There is so much information,” she said.

Jeffrey, a kitchen manager at Chick-fil-A in Milford, needs the certification for work.

“This class is great. It gives me the tools I need to enforce food safety in the kitchen. Of course, ChicK-fil-A already has something in place, but this gives me more,” he said.

Rachel, who drove down from Hockessin where she works at the Drip Café, also praised the class.

“It’s part of work, but it’s something I wanted to do, too,” she said.

Instructor Greg Coumatos, a children’s nutrition coordinator at the Food Bank, said the course contains important and useful information, in addition to the food safety component.

“It covers everything, even how to flow your kitchen,” he said.

For those working in the food service industry, recertification is required every five years. The $150 fee includes lunch and the cost of the test. For individuals who already have the current ServSafe Manager text with answer sheet, there is also an option to take just the test for $75.

The next available ServSafe® program will be offered in Spanish at the Milford facility on April 20. For the complete schedule and to sign up online, visit

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Senior Recipe Club classes offer new ways to prepare food

By Gwen Guerke, Communications Coordinator

Some common perceptions may not be a reality, such as senior citizens know how to prepare healthy, nutritious and economical meals.

Sure, they may have prepared meals for their families, but living with a downsized household and a limited income can create frustrating challenges.

The Food Bank of Delaware launched a Recipe Club, sponsored by the Palmer Home Foundation, to meet the needs of Kent County seniors who want to prepare and enjoy healthy and appealing meals.

In Milford, Asia Thurston, one of our community nutrition educators, offered an entertaining, engaging and educational hour-long class for the half dozen seniors gathered around the conference room table.

This class was the first in a series of four hands-on, nutrition classes hosted by the SNAP-Education department; classes are designed to help participants make healthy food choices on a limited budget.

Since most people use a recipe to prepare, Asia started with the basics: what is a recipe? This class is not just about telling; it’s also about doing with students participating in informal quizzes.

The recipe for the day was individual pizzas cooked in an electric skillet. Asia handed out a whole-grain sandwich round, then students passed around the tomato sauce for the next layer. They were offered a variety of toppings, including turkey pepperoni, green pepper, and pineapple, in addition to the cheese.

The students laughed and joked and exchanged pleasantries while the pizzas cooked. Of course, they enjoyed eating their fresh and healthy pizzas toward the end of class.

As they departed for the day, each student received a box of food that includes fresh produce and bread, in addition to shelf-stable menu items.

Students will complete the four-week program on Feb. 26. In addition to learning food safety and some new recipes, each student goes home with a recipe book and Mobile Pantry food box of non-perishable food.

In addition to the Recipe Club, the Food of Bank of Delaware will also host a two-part free senior cooking class in March at the Food Bank’s Milford site. Chef Tim Hunter will lead the class, and participants will learn to make easy-to-prepare recipes using common, everyday items.

The hour-long classes are at 3 p.m. March 19 and 26. There are still openings for Kent County seniors over age 60. Students must commit to both days.

For more information or to sign up for these senior programs, call Missy Holochwost at (302) 444-8129 or email


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Partner Spotlight: Backpack Program at G.W. Carver Center


Michele Murphy shows of G.W. Carver’s new school pantry, sponsored by the Harry K Foundation. In addition to backpacks, district families may also utilize the pantry.

By Gwen Guerke, Communications Coordinator

Many of the participants in the Food Bank of Delaware’s Backpack Program are in elementary and middle school.

However, at the G.W. Carver Center in Frankford, there are 58 high school students enrolled in the Advanced Preliterate English Language Learners (APELL) program who are grateful to receive the weekend supply of food.

Many of them work in addition to going to school, said Michele Murphy, Parent Center Director. “They are some of the happiest kids. They want to learn. They are not greedy and appreciate whatever they are given.”

Some, she said, work in the poultry-processing plant in addition to attending school.

“It’s like giving them a million dollars in cash,” she said. Even though the Backpack Program is geared toward elementary-age students, the food makes a difference in these students’ lives.

The Backpack Program, now in its third week here, is distributed on Fridays.

“It’s inconspicuous,” said Mrs. Murphy, adding that the shelf-stable food packed in plastic bags is handed out in the three classrooms where the students are learning English, math and science.

“It’s better than nothing, and it’s a little variety,” she said.

“The students are thrilled. It’s been successful beyond our expectations. Who knows, the backpacks may keep them here.”

Mrs. Murphy said the students are not the only ones who benefit from the backpacks.

“The teachers are also very appreciative. They could tell the students need some nourishment over the weekend. They feel like Santa Claus,” she added.

Teacher Lori Ott agrees the backpacks are an important part of the students’ educational experiences.

“They appreciate it, and they are ready for them,” she said.

To learn more about the Backpack Program, please click here.


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Partner Spotlight: After-School Nutrition Program at Gauger Middle School’s 4-H Program

Gauger 4H mentorsBy Kim Turner, Communications Director

Every weekday morning, a group of dedicated volunteers work alongside Food Bank of Delaware staff in both Newark and Milford to prepare healthy after-school meals. Volunteers spend each morning bagging sandwiches and other items and loading individual-sized milk cartons and fruit into coolers. A fleet of drivers deliver the meals and snacks to after-school programs up and down the state. For many children, the meal received after school is the last healthy meal of the day until going back to school the next morning.

On average we deliver 6,500 meals each week. So far this school year, we have distributed 97,378 meals.

Sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), our after-school nutrition program fills a meal void for many Delaware families. We partner with after-school programs such as the University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension’s 4-H after-school program. Targeting at-risk youth, the program is housed at 13 statewide locations, including Gauger Middle School in Newark.

Last month I had the opportunity to visit the group of 4-H mentors housed at Gauger Middle School. Mentor Sherice Brown and eight others (pictured above) work with a group of more than 40 students, providing after-school enrichment programs to students. The program lasts for two hours every schoolday afternoon. In addition to homework help and recreational activities, the students also enjoy an after-school meal prepared by our team of volunteers. When I visited, students had tuna fish with crackers, celery, oranges and milk. Some recent and future programming includes construction of wooden bird houses, a culture project, microwave magic healthy cooking demonstrations and a career day.

The mentors, employed by the University of Delaware, are thankful for an opportunity to provide students with a meal.

Volunteers are currently needed to help prepare meals in both Newark and Milford. Click here to sign up to help in the Milford kitchen and here to help in Newark.

Does your after-school program want to serve free meals? To qualify for the program, sites must operate in areas where at least 50 percent of the children attending the nearest school qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. To learn more, please contact Kirsten Gooden, Children’s Nutrition Coordinator, at (302) 444-8128 or


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