Over 34 million Americans face hunger daily, including 1 in every 6 children. These statistics can seem daunting, and you may wonder how such a large problem could ever be solved? But by acting locally a large difference can be made. Through a partnership between Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin, the FarmLink program was developed for the communities in Wisconsin. FarmLink works to end hunger one acre at a time through partnerships with local small farmers.
Beginning in 2018, the aim of FarmLink was to create a farm to food bank initiative that would improve access to healthy foods and foster an overall systemic change. The program is run through contracts with local farmers to grow produce specifically for distribution to the local network of food bank pantries. FarmLink is currently partnered with over 100 pantries across Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin's footprint.
Two large impacts are being made through this program. Firstly, community members have access to fresh, straight off the farm, produce. The produce is being delivered or picked up by the food pantries within 24 hours of harvest. Secondly, the farmers in the program receive a guaranteed income for their produce. The pantries receive the produce free of charge, but the farmers are being paid in advance by the program.
To promote diversity, FarmLink also works to ensure culturally relevant produce is being distributed to specific areas. For example, their urban farmer in Milwaukee, WI grows collard greens and Bok Choy for the diverse population in the area.
This system is a guaranteed market for the small growers. At the beginning of the season, FarmLink explains to the farmer exactly how much of each produce they are going to need for the season. FarmLink then pays the farmer half of the determined contract price. This upfront payment alleviates the start-up costs such as equipment maintenance, seeds, fertilizer, etc. After harvest, the rest of the payment is paid to the farmers, and this system continues for each season.
The partnership between local small farmers and FarmLink is only made possible through sponsorships and donations. All donations go directly into funding the contract growing and purchasing the fresh produce. GreenStone has been sponsoring the FarmLink program since 2021 and plans to continue supporting food needs through Feeding America.
Currently, Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin has 19 acres devoted to growing this produce. Since the program was created in 2018, 675,500 pounds of fresh produce has been provided to the communities in Wisconsin. This year, over 30 different types of produce were grown ranging from cucumbers to winter squash.
Baskets of fresh produce grown by FarmLink partners
The biggest impact of this program is the goal for systemic change. FarmLink strives to transform this program into an effort that works statewide. Contract growing benefits everyone involved from the farmers to the pantries to the community members.
“It’s directly from farm to someone’s table. I've been to the pantries on days where we have produce there, and I've seen the joy of little kids just walking around holding apples. It's really incredible, and it's amazing to know where it's coming from, where it's going, and to see those folks really excited about having amazing fresh produce at their fingertips,” exclaimed Kara Black, Fresh Category Procurement Coordinator for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin.
Think globally and act locally through support and involvement with programs like Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin. Volunteer at your local food pantry, donate food, donate monetary support, or just simply share their story! To learn more about other programs GreenStone supportsvisit Open Fields Blog | GreenStone FCS.