By Katy Savage
PAWLET—Laughing Child Farm owners Tim and Brooke Hughes-Muse got into the business to provide healthy, organic food to friends and neighbors.
They focus on one crop on their farm in Pawlet: sweet potatoes. The Hughes-Muses have grown 160,000 pounds of potatoes a year since they started in 2012.
“All the work we do is about feeding people,” said Tim.
This year, about 10,000 pounds of their fresh organic sweet potatoes are going to help feed struggling Vermonters.
The Vermont Foodbank is launching a new program to bring fresh Vermont produce to the hungry through “Vermonters Feeding Vermonters.”
A total of 150,000 pounds of fresh produce will be provided from nine Vermont farms this year— everything from lettuce to carrots to winter squash.
The fresh produce represents a significant shift within the Vermont Foodbank, from its focus on canned, non-perishable items, to fresh food immediately distributed to those who need it.
“It’s time for us to make it happen,” said Vermont Foodbank spokesperson Nicole Whalen.
The launch of the program was announced last Friday at the Annual Hunger Action Conference at Killington Grand Resort.
About 300 people attend the conference each year for a day of learning, educating and networking around food.
“We have done a lot of programming around changing behavior around fresh food. We have successfully increased the demand for fruits and vegetables,” Whalen said.
Each farmer who wanted to participate in Vermonters Feeding Vermonters was required to submit an application verifying he or she could produce adequate supplies of the needed fruits or vegetables.
Dutchess Farm in Castleton qualified for peppers.
Dutchess Farm owner Stephen Chamberlain said his farm in Castleton will provide 200 pounds of peppers a week to the Vermont Foodbank this summer.
Farmers are paid about 84 cents per pound of food they provide—which is less than what many charge in wholesale.
“I’m not going to make much money on this, but I wanted to be part of something good,” said Chamberlain. “People don’t eat enough vegetables.”
Chamberlain started his business 31 years ago. He grows 30 different vegetables on about five acres.
The Vermont Foodbank is paying local farmers for fresh produce with the help of $275,000 in grants and donations to launch the pilot year of the program.
Whalen said this program was desperately needed.
About one in four Vermonters—153,000—people rely on the Vermont Foodbank every year.
About half of the people the Vermont Foodbank serves have high blood pressure. Almost a quarter of them have a family member of in the household living with diabetes.
“Every Vermonter deserves access to the fresh, local food that our state has in such abundance,” according to a Vermont Foodbank press release.
Other farms that will be participating are located in Chittenden and Windham counties. Whalen hopes the program will grow to include more farms in the following years.
“We have been working to increase our produce a lot,” said Whalen.
Tim Hughes-Muse and his daughter pull sweet potatoes from their farm, Laughing Child Farm, in Pawlet.