New pilot project aims to yield more than just crops
The Canadian poet and novelist Brian Brett once said, “Farming is a profession of hope.” For that reason, and so many more, the professional lives of farmers and foodbankers are deeply intertwined. With that in mind, the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore is embarking on a new pilot project in Western Tidewater to lease land, partner with a farmer, and produce our own crops.
“The spirit of partnership is woven throughout this project, and I think the level of collaboration we are working toward will touch a lot of lives,” says Foodbank President & CEO, Christopher Tan.
It all began when New Life Church in Franklin, which owns 20 acres of farmland, offered to lease it to the Foodbank at a favorable rate. We chose Elisha Barnes, a local minority farmer who owns Popson Farms, to farm the land.
“It was important to us that we partner with a minority farmer,” says Christopher. “Historically, minority farmers have been systemically blocked from the support and resources commonly available to white farmers. Evidence spanning eight decades of USDA denial of loans to socially disadvantaged farmers demonstrates a long history of discrimination. That’s why we want to partner with a family farmer of color to strengthen the food system in the Franklin area and develop a means of production that results in food security for the region.”
Here’s how it will work: Mr. Barnes will tend to the entire 20 acres, of which he will retain all the crops he chooses to grow on 10 of those acres. On the other half, he will care for crops selected by the Foodbank, most likely cabbage, collards, and broccoli in the fall and melons and corn in the spring and summer. Students from local schools will assist in harvesting.
Once harvested, the nutritious fresh food will be distributed through the market at the Foodbank’s Western Tidewater Branch and food pantries throughout the region.
As a pilot program, results will dictate what happens going forward. However, if all goes well, the Foodbank plans to initiate similar projects on the Eastern Shore and in South Hampton Roads.