HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The Farm Food Collaborative (FFC) is gearing up for a busy summer and leaders are working hard to ensure every child in North Alabama has regular access to fresh, healthy locally grown fruits and vegetables.
The FFC has been operating out of the Food Bank of North Alabama since 2014. Leaders help area farmers sell into wholesale markets, including K-12 school districts, early care and education sites, grocery stores and restaurants.
According to co-manager Carey Martin-Lane, retail sales for farmers skyrocketed last year and as a result, farmers planted extra this season in case the high demand continued. However, farmers are now left with an abundance of produce.
“The retail sales have plateaued a bit and so we are working really hard at the Farm Food Collaborative to provide more wholesale outlets for our local farmers for that reason,” Martin-Lane said. “We have a ton of strawberries and they are beautiful. This is one of the most productive harvests we’ve ever had of strawberries in North Alabama.”
The FFC currently serves eight school districts in North Alabama: Madison City, Madison County, Cullman City, Lawrence County, Decatur City, Arab City, Albertville City and Hartselle City.
“Four of them have come on this year so we are thrilled to be getting fresh local produce to thousands and thousands of students all across North Alabama,” Martin-Lane said.
The FFC also serves Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the summer. Co-manager Natalie Bishnoi said one of the most important aspects of the FFC is connecting young adults and children to the farmer that grew their food. Her team makes marketing materials and flyers to hang up in lunch lines, and hosts organized farm visits and taste tests at different elementary schools.
“We want to help people understand where their food comes from and to have that appreciation for the folks that grow the food,” Bishnoi said. “Farming is hard work and the farmers that we work with love doing Farm to School. They love knowing the food that they grow goes to these kids and that they get the opportunity to have more nutritious, fresh, locally grown food on the lunch line.”
Bishnoi and Martin-Lane encourage community members to buy produce from Farmers Markets around the Valley. They also hope more people will ask and understand where their food comes from.
“The best way for the community to get involved is to ask your favorite restaurant, your grocery store, your kids school, ask them if they are buying fresh local ingredients from local farmers and if not, have them connect with us and we will make sure that they have access,” Martin-Lane said.
FFC leaders also noted, purchasing from local farms supports the local economy and food supply both now and in the future.