For every problem, there is a solution—and when community-minded people put their minds and ideas together, they find innovative and creative solutions to multiple problems. That is how Augusta Health's Crop to Community program came to be.
"There were many farmers in the community who, because of the COVID pandemic, have excess crops and livestock as a result of restaurant closures and reduction in other buyers. At the same time, and although we've always had people in need of fresh food options, the pandemic has increased the concern for those with food insecurities," says Krystal Moyers, M.Ed, CHES, Director of Community Outreach at Augusta Health. "So we worked together to develop a way to get the excess crops to people in need—and it became the Crops to Community program.
The program, facilitated by Augusta Health's Community Benefit Endowment Fund and other grant sources like the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, works like this:
- Produce and protein are purchased from local farmers at market value.
- The food is transported from the farms to the sorting facility on the Augusta Health campus.
- Food is sorted and packaged for delivery.
- Food boxes are distributed to recipients in need
The recipients and families, who are clients of local non-profit agencies or patients of healthcare providers, have been identified using hunger assessment screenings.
Both Project Grows and the AMI Farm at Augusta Health participate in the program, but many independent, local farms such as Cool Breeze Farm, Malcolms Market Garden and Poplar Ridge Farms are also actively involved.
"We're a mission-driven farm," says Andrew Crummet of Cool Breeze Farm in Mt. Sidney, "so this question has always been a concern—how do we get our fresh, local food to the customers who need it most? When this project was presented, we couldn't have asked for a better match to that mission."
Crummet says that the project came together quickly—in less than two weeks—and that it was a bit overwhelming at first. He believes the process improves every week, though, as everyone involved has become a bit more proficient at their part of the program.
Cool Breeze Farm supplies eggs and proteins to Crops to Community, but the exact contribution varies week to week. This week, it was pork and sausage.
Ashley Malcolm, of Malcolms Market Garden in Augusta County, participates in the program by providing produce. "We put together a bag of three to four items each week, whatever is fresh. This week, it was radishes, arugula and asparagus."
Malcolms Market Garden provides produce for restaurants, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, a system that connects farmers directly to consumers via subscriptions) and farmers markets. With restaurants temporarily closed, they are focusing on the CSA, farmers' markets and the Crop to Community program.
"Crop to Community aligns with our vision of providing local food to our local community," says Malcom. "It makes healthy, local food accessible to those who want and need it. We're grateful that the hospital has the connections to people in need."
All the farms involved with the program agree it's been an incredibly positive experience. "We can do more together," says Crummet, "let's work together and solve these issues."
Currently, the program delivers to 50 people or households each week, but has more than 50 additional families identified. The process of sorting, packing and delivering takes about 20 hours from start to finish according to Moyers.
"We would love to and plan to expand the Crop to Community program," say Moyers, "but to do that, we need some additional resources.
The Crop to Community program needs:
- Refrigeration trucks and drivers for food transportation
- Volunteers to help sort and pack produce collected
- Volunteers with larger vehicles to deliver produce to recipient-designated locations
- Farmers with excess crops and people in need
- Donations to support the program
Those who would like to volunteer with transportation, sorting and packing, delivery, excess crops or to connect the program to people in need should contact Moyers at (540) 932-4976 or kmoyers [at] augustahealth.com
To donate to the program, please go to the Augusta Health Foundation's online giving form at: https://www.augustahealth.com/foundation/give and select the unrestricted patient care fund, or checks may be mailed to the Augusta Health Foundation at P.O. Box 1000, Fishersville, VA 22939, and reference Crop to Community on the memo line.