Not Just Books, Rural Public Library System Shares Locally Grown Fresh Veggies & Fruit

Schuylerville Public Library, one of three in rural upstate NY, sharing summer’s local bounty and books

Onions, beets and carrots kept cold in mini fridge in Schuylerville library

Carrots and tomatoes for the taking at the public library, but where are the blueberries and melons? First to go according to library staff

Comfort Food Community’s food pantry at St. Joseph’s Hall in Greenwich (Washington County), NY offers much fresh food from farms in the local community

Comfort Food Community maintains a community garden in Greenwich which includes four Food Pantry Plots, whose bounty is made available at the pantry throughout the growing season

The Southern Adirondack Library System (SALS) is a consortium of 34 public libraries in Hamilton, Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties in upstate New York. SALS is governed by a Board of Trustees, composed of three representatives from each of these four upstate counties elected by the trustees of the 34 member libraries. (Member libraries are governed by their own board of trustees and are funded primarily by local taxes.)

SALS offers a coordinated outreach services program, through its member libraries, to upstaters in the four county rural region who are most in need and who often are not regular library users. This summer, the SALS outreach services program and the Comfort Food Community, based in Greenwich (Washington County, NY), have joined together to made available fresh produce (fruits and vegetables) from local farms to patrons visiting three small town libraries, which are part of the consortium of 34 libraries: Schuylerville Public Library in Saratoga County, and the Whitehall Free Library as well as the Pember Library and Museum in Granville, both in Washington County.

The Comfort Food Community’s mission to contribute to the health of our community through the inspirational power of good food is served by a mixture of programming, which includes operating the Greenwich Food Pantry. This food pantry strives to offer as much fresh and healthy food as possible, with much coming from farms in the local community. It also offers plots in its Greenwich Community Garden to community members, as well as managing four Pantry Plots, whose bounty is harvested, washed and made available at the food pantry throughout the growing season.

Additionally, Comfort Food Community, in partnership with the Agricultural Stewardship Association (which conserves farmland in rural Washington and Rensselaer counties in upstate NY), created The Glean Team whose volunteers travel to partner farms to harvest surplus food for emergency food programs and to share the local bounty with low income families. Excess farm fresh produce which has been gleaned, rather than wasted, amounts to approximately 20,000 pounds of fresh produce each growing season.

Fresh produce now represents the majority of the food that Comfort Food Community distributes through its Greenwich Food Pantry and a satellite food pantry at the Cossayuna Fire Department. But the organization has discovered that there is more surplus food available at local farms and within the food system than it can distribute through its two pantries.

In 2016, in partnership with Glens Falls Hospital in Warren County and the Washington County EOC and Family Services Association, Comfort Food Community developed a distribution network for the additional food it calls the Fresh Food Collective By Comfort Food Community. From late July to mid November, it distributes food on Fridays to a dozen key sites in Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties.

With this history of fulfilling its mission and putting into action its motto, When Everyone Eats. All Are Nourishedno surprise that Comfort Food Community and the Southern Adirondack Library System’s Fresh Food Collective Library Distribution program has been successful in creating a program to offer fresh produce to library patrons in three small town libraries.

Reporter Jennifer Patterson in a recent article in the Albany Times Union, Sharing summer’s fresh harvest (8/9/18), interviewed Erica Freudenberger, the outreach and engagement consultant at SALS, who noted that “There’s a learning curve to get people comfortable with taking what they need.” Yet it’s hard to think of a better way to build hope and community by offering  books to read and fresh and local food in a welcoming, safe place. Bravo.

(Frank W. Barrie, 8/23/18)

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