Solving Local Hunger Together: Manna Food Center & Farm to Freezer

October 3, 2013

by Ellie Lanphier

Today, 1 in 6 Americans go hungry while 6 billion pounds of produce goes unharvested or unsold every year. In Gaithersburg, MD, a local non-profit has teamed up with a new for-profit social enterprise to solve this problem together.  RSF proudly supported this partnership through a 2013 Seed Fund grant.

Manna Food Center collects and distributes 3 million pounds of food annually to food-insecure clients in the Washington D.C. area. In 2012, Manna joined forces with Farm to Freezer to prevent food waste, nourish the hungry, support local farmers, and provide job training. Manna receives a generous donation of unsold surplus fresh produce from local farms and farmers markets during the growing season. Farm to Freezer prepares and freezes a portion of surplus produce to supplement the shelf stable items provided to the center’s clients during the winter months. So far this year, Manna and Farm to Freezer have rescued 36,849 pounds of produce from the compost heap. This “rescued food” is still fresh, but is nearing peak ripeness. Often, produce goes unharvested due to cosmetic imperfections alone.

Carrots_Onions_PotatoesIn 2013, Manna Food Center received a Seed Fund grant from RSF to further develop their innovative partnership with Farm to Freezer. Traditionally, food banks measure their success by “food in food out”, but Manna has begun the transition to placing an equal amount of importance on food quality and nutrition. The Seed Fund grant was made to help fund the development of an educational component to Manna’s Farm to Food Bank program so that clients are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to integrate frozen local produce into healthier meals.  Beyond tackling food waste and hunger, Manna sets itself to transform how their community views its role in reducing hunger and poverty by connecting multiple agencies, partners, and community members, to identify a common goal and solve problems together.

Farm to Freezer cofounder Cheryl Kollin says, “by tapping the synergy of collaboration within our local food system, we provide more local, nutritious food to Manna Food Center’s clients in need, provide vocational training in kitchen skills to vulnerable populations, and support farmers by purchasing their surplus produce and thereby strengthening our local food economy. I believe in the power of business to do good in the community. I believe that we can make a difference without competing for scarce public and philanthropic funding.” Hear more of what Cheryl has to say in this video from TedXManhattan on the creation and work of Farm to Freezer.

“We believe that we are setting a great example of involving all levels of the community in solving local hunger,” says Mark Foraker, Director of Development at Manna Food Center. “We are working to better educate donors (individuals as well as businesses) on what foods are most in need and why.  Our Farm to Food Bank initiative is a good example of connecting food produced by local farmers to those experiencing hunger. There is a lot of talk about suburban poverty, food rescue and hunger alleviation.  It is our hope that the conversations will remain collaborative as this is a community-wide issue requiring community-wide solutions.”


Find out more about Manna Food Center’s work on their website. If you happen to be reading this from the Gaithersburg area, check out how you can be a part of the hunger solution through volunteer opportunities with Manna and Farm to Freezer.

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