Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Partnerships Providing Food to Those in Need

Part one of a two-part series that looks at how a local farm is serving the community through a grant that provides distribution to area food pantries. Part two of this series will explore how local nonprofit Grove Christian Outreach is using these local resources to better its neighborhood.

JAMES CITY COUNTY — Providing healthy food choices to the entire community is the goal of KelRae Farm, and with the assistance of Virginia-based Lulus Local Food and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is becoming a reality.

At the start of the 2020 pandemic, KelRae Farm, owned and operated by the Gulden family, began licensing the Lulus Local Food software to launch a virtual food hub to partner with neighboring farms to reach customers year-round.

The Food Hub works through partnerships with other area producers to bring local produce, meat, daily and other goods together in a virtual farmer’s market.

Molly Harris, of Richmond-based Lulus Local Food, said, “The program helped farmer markets across the country go online with sales transactions during the shutdown. [It allowed] KelRae Farm to open their virtual Food Hub so neighbors could continue to support their local farmers during the shutdown. They also established relationships with the local food pantries to provide Boxes of Hope to families in need.”

In January 2023, Lulus Local Food received a grant through the USDA Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement Program (LFPA) and distributed the funds to several Virginia farmers, including KelRae Farm. This allowed the Toano-based food hub to fill weekly orders for three neighboring food pantries, supported by funds awarded to Lulus Local Food from the LFPA grant using the Lulus Local Food e-commerce platform to track the orders.

Now, orders of fresh food from local farmers, including fruit, produce, meat, baked goods and prepared foods, reach three area food assistance programs: Proclaiming Grace Outreach Center in Lanexa, Grove Christian Outreach Center in Williamsburg and Williamsburg House of Mercy.

With food pantry supplies low coming into the holiday season, the grant award is a blessing to those working to feed those in need.

“The LFPA grant is such an essential element right now because so many of our local food pantries are in desperate need and the holidays are coming upon us very fast,” said Michelle Gulden. “This grant allows many local farmers and producers the opportunity to sell their products at fair market value while allowing our food pantries the opportunity to purchase first quality foods and not having to settle with seconds.”

Lulus Local Food’s 2023 third quarter report for the LFPA program states KelRae Farm Food Hub has delivered 27,572 pounds of fresh food (totaling $38,330) and reached 14,818 individuals in need.

For the farmers, contributing food hub members and food pantries, there is more at stake than just providing substance. Gulden said, “For us personally, it has truly allowed our food hub team to learn more about our community as a whole. Each partnership that we work with has different needs. It is essential to remember this program is not about just supplying food but also supplying food choices that can be utilized and enjoyed from each organization we are currently working with.”

On Oct. 17, KelRae Farm hosted a farm tour for those groups benefitting from the LFPA program in Virginia to explain operations and how they participating in the food hub program.

During the tour, James City County (JCC) Board of Supervisors Chair Mike Hipple said, “We are very lucky in James City County to have this program. It promotes so much, not only healthy living, but provides for the people that need food. It gives the Guldens a chance to make a living on the land while also helping the people that are less fortunate. They [the Guldens] have supported the community from day one. They are an amazing family. They work hard and are dedicated to what they are doing and it is just one more diamond we have here in the County.”

Mike Rock, a volunteer with Williamsburg House of Mercy, said of the farm/food hub tour,  “All these folks are here because of the passion they have to fulfill a need in our community, which is food. Folks need to eat. And we want to provide that.”

WYDaily covered KelRae Farm and its community projects in a previous article.

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