BY CARMEN SIERING
It’s hard to balance supply and demand when you’re a farmer; you never know when you’re going to have a bumper crop. Just ask Teresa Birtles of Heartland Family Farm, who had an overabundance of butternut squash last year. “At the end of the season, we saw we would have a lot left over,” she says. “We had literally grown a ton of squash.”
Fortunately, Birtles is a vendor at the Bloomington Winter Farmers’ Market (BWFM), which established the Healthful Food for All Fund in 2013. At the end of each Saturday market, the fund buys foodstuffs that can’t be stored at 50 percent of the retail price. The food is then donated to local organizations supporting low-income households.
Janice Lilly, who started the fund and serves as committee chair, says the project not only makes healthful, local foods available to places such as Middle Way House’s The Rise, Community Kitchen of Monroe County, and Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, it also supports local farmers over the winter. “We wanted to be able to say to our farmers, ‘We can’t promise you’ll make a profit, but we can promise you won’t lose money if you come to the winter market,’” Lilly says.
The fund got a boost its first year when a donor stepped up and offered what amounted to open-ended support. By the end of the season, the BWFM had spent just over $2,500 on excess winter market products. Much of it was greens —166 heads of lettuce, 241 bunches of arugula, 186 bags of greens, 85 bunches of kale. But it also purchased bread, apples, and even 110 chickens that needed to be taken out of the freezer.
The BWFM is affiliated with the Center for Sustainable Living, a 501(c)(3) organization, so donations to the fund are tax deductible.
Birtles says Healthful Food for All is a boost for everyone involved. “As a farmer, I feel everyone should be able to eat good, nutritious food,” she says. “And the fund gives farmers a venue to sell their product even if there isn’t a huge customer base that week. I think a lot of farmers have been particularly grateful for that.”