Food Pantries, Getting Creative, Draw from Local Sources to Expand Their Offerings

Jan 26, 2017

Since 2012, Kathleen Bacon has been a member of the Wellfleet Community Garden.

“This end is my plot,” Bacon said, showing me the spot, “which I’ve had since the garden opened. This is all lettuce—probably ten or twelve varieties of lettuce. And this small bed here holds fourteen tomato plants.”

The year after Bacon joined the garden, she noticed that after Labor Day a lot of the plots weren’t as carefully tended as they were during the summer, and there was a lot of extra food lying around.

This month on the Local Food Report, Elspeth Hay and Ali Berlow have been focusing on local food waste—why it happens, where it goes, and what people in our area are doing to prevent it.

“I sent out an email to all thirty gardeners,” Bacon said, “saying that I would be in the garden on a particular Monday from 9-to-12, and if they had produce that they wanted to donate, that they couldn’t themselves use, I would deliver it to the food pantry.”

The donations started small—a few tomatoes, a lone squash. But slowly, the gardeners caught on, and every year Bacon’s deliveries from her own plot and the Community Garden as a whole have increased.

I always thought donations had to be in a box or a can, but that’s not true. Sandy Galvin is a registered nurse who volunteers regularly at the Wellfleet Food Pantry.

“We love fresh produce,” Galvin said. “We actually brought a new refrigerator—an extra refrigerator—to put fresh produce in.”

Galvin says, as Kathleen Bacon has shown, keeping the pantry stocked doesn’t always have to involve giving or using money. The key is to keep perfectly good food out of the waste stream, so that people who need it can enjoy it.

The Cape Cod Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance regularly collaborates with food pantries across the Cape to donate species like dogfish, mackerel, and skate that don’t command as high a price as other local seafood, but are still incredibly delicious and healthy. The impact, said Galvin, is huge.

“We have about 80 families,” she explained. “We serviced more than 300 people last year.”

That’s more than ten percent of Wellfleet’s year-round population. The town’s food pantry is one of eight from Harwich to Provincetown sponsored by the non-profit Lower Cape Outreach Council. Usually the pantries have to buy food from the Greater Boston food bank to fill their shelves. But more and more, creative volunteers are supplementing this with local sources.

There are food pantries serving every town on the Cape and Islands—and as many creative solutions for keeping local food out of the waste stream as there are volunteers. 

Here's a link to a list of local food pantries.