By Shawn McGowan, JobsInRI.com
Celebrating 10 years of connecting Vermont job seekers and employers, JobsInVT.com recently selected our fourth quarter Live Work Give contest winners, who each selected a nonprofit to receive a $500 donation, in their name, from JobsInVT.com. One of the Live Work Give contest winners was Richard Sontag, who chose Salvation Farms. I recently caught up with Salvation Farms Founder and Executive Director, Theresa Snow, to learn more about this non-profit organization focused on agricultural surplus management and food equity, reducing Vermont's outside food dependency and providing access to local food throughout the state.
What is Salvation Farms' mission?
Theresa Snow, Salvation Farms: Salvation Farms mission is to build increased resilience in Vermont's food system through agricultural surplus management. Our programs are designed to reduce food loss on Vermont farms, decrease our dependence and investment in food from far away to feed vulnerable populations, and engage citizens in the process increasing their understanding and appreciation of our state's agricultural heritage and future. We believe farms are, were, and always will be our salvation; farms are the cornerstones and centerpieces of healthy and stable communities and cultures.
What is gleaning and why is it important?
TS: Gleaning, to reap after the harvest, is an ancient agrarian tradition that was typically done by the poor or traveler. Salvation Farms and our organizations partners still practice gleaning in its more traditional sense. We engage community members to join in the process of reducing food loss on farms through the harvest of unmarketable crops, providing them to sites that serve the financially or nutritionally insecure. Modern day gleaning is important for many reasons:
- Environmental: It is proactive local resource management. By managing available food here in Vermont, we have the potential to reduce the environmental impact of meeting our food needs by reducing our demands on nationally and globally food sources where production practices are not likely rooted in environmental or ecologically minded practices.
- Social: It is participatory action, moving a community forward together, further from vulnerability though lessening dependence on outside resources to provide for one of our most basic and essential need.
- Economical: By managing food resources currently going to waste on Vermont farms we can reduce our investment on food from afar and redirect our investments on building capacity to better utilize the food we have here in Vermont first.
- Equality: Gleaning dispels the perception held by many individuals and institutions that local food as something out of reach and only for certain socio-economic demographics of our communities.
- Education: The challenge to measure the impact of strangers coming together in a farm field under mixed weather conditions from different backgrounds to help redefine how their community chooses to feed itself is one of the more powerful forms of experiential education I have ever witnessed. It allows an individual the opportunity to look at a farm from the field, not from the road and provides them the space to think about what food production is, how we obtain food, how we value or don't value food and farms, how we waste so much of what we produce… it is a healthy environment to reconnect with nature and the true source of our sustenance.
Can you tell us about your Vermont Commodity Program?
TS: The Vermont Commodity Program as envisioned is the aggregating and processing of large and/or compromised quality farm surplus in Vermont. It dovetails nicely with the Vermont Gleaning Collective. We estimate that at least two million pounds of fruits and vegetables lay to waste on Vermont farms every year. If we, as a state, actually captured a volume remotely close to this figure we will need to have a program, partners, and mechanisms in place to help aggregate, clean, quality assess, case pack, minimally process the volume that a community cannot distribute within their region. This program will increases institutional access to locally produce food, will act as an introduction to local food for many institutions, and will maximizes their food dollars. In addition, we are grounding this program in the creative approach of non-traditional partnerships and workforce development (i.e. within a correctional facility).
As the founder of Salvation Farms, was there any particular moment or event that led to your decision to pursue this cause?
TS: Yes - it seems like a great crescendo of life experiences led me to what is Salvation Farms. Two that particularly standout for me:
- My Sterling College experience, Natural Resource Management and Sustainable Agriculture and their mission: to build responsible problem solvers who become stewards of the environment as they pursue productive lives, coupled with the agricultural experiences of my youth.
- Disaster relief with the Red Cross in Manhattan after the 2011 collapse of the World Trade Towers, while serving in an AmeriCorps program. Within months of leaving the safe embrace of Sterling College, where I learned much about subsistence living and building stability through engaging with my natural surroundings, I found myself thrust into the belly of the beast, so to speak.
Embodied in the challenge of connecting with my peers and serving Manhattan residence who lost their jobs, homes and family members in the World Trade Center collapse, I felt like an outsider witnessing the result of an environmentally disconnected culture made vulnerable by an obsession with a monetary economy and a popular culture produced in Hollywood that was easily controlled by fear. I quickly realized that I did not want to witness this degree of vulnerability evolve in my home state, let alone my home county or town and I would do what I could to help my fellow citizens regain some control over their lives and what they depend on to provide for some of their most basic needs.
How much of your workforce is volunteers? How can people volunteer for Salvation Farms?
TS: Folks can sign up if they would like to get involved with Salvation Farms work. However, there are many volunteers opportunities within the Salvation Farms network via our programs and partners. We would be happy to help folks connect with those activities as well as our own.
Are there any upcoming events or fundraisers you can tell us about?
TS: Salvation Farms must raise $100,000 by May 1 of this year to renovate a building at the Southeast State Correctional Facility for the purpose of increasing the capacity of the Vermont Commodity Program and our ability to incorporate industry best practices into the inmate work opportunity and environment. One of the ways we are raising these dollars is via an online campaign (similar to Kick Starter), with a goal of $40,000 toward a needed $100,000 by May 1.
To learn more about Salvation Farms, please visit their website.
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As a Social Media Marketing Coordinator, Shawn McGowan's passion for brand transparency and over 10 years of sales/customer service experience make him aptly suited for the job. A native of East Millinocket, Maine, Shawn grew up at the foot of Mount Katahdin and graduated from the University of Maine Presque Isle with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). When not writing, editing or immersing himself in the world of social media, he can be found enjoying the outdoors, art, music, tech, humor, Portland's amazing food scene, and all things nerdy. You can reach Shawn at smcgowan (at) JobsInRI.com and Twitter.com/shonymac.