Tristan Wallack, our Senior Director of Programming and Operations, shares a recap of the year.
Did that really happen? Did we just deliver our last bin of produce for the season? The answer is a resounding yes. As noted in my spring and summer letters, as is the case for everyone, this has been a year unlike any other. But we have pushed through it and there is so much to be proud of.
Because of safety concerns and restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic, we shifted our business model from volunteer-based to commercial-based for the 2020 season, including hiring additional farm staff and mechanizing some operations. As we made this shift, it became clear that not only could we achieve our goal of growing, harvesting, and distributing 1.5 million pounds of fresh produce, but we could surpass it. Well, now that we have sent out our last delivery, we are thrilled that we not only hit our goal but blew it out of the water: we distributed 2 million pounds of fresh food – 27% above plan. If you have been reading about the increase in food insecurity in New Jersey and the region, you know that every one of those pounds has been sorely needed. And even though we had to restrict volunteer numbers, 1,100 volunteers contributed their time to America’s Grow-a-Row this year, many participating on multiple occasions, resulting in 2,920 total volunteer visits and 7,680 hours volunteered.
Beyond the growth in the amount of produce distributed, we grew in other areas as well. With regard to our programs, we expanded our off-the-field education program and developed key relationships with new partners. Through our collaboration with the Hunterdon County Partnership for Health and Flemington Area Food Pantry, we rolled out a new Family Meal Commit-Kit program. In addition to supplying fresh produce to families at the Flemington Area Food Pantry, we developed monthly video demonstrations for those families from our Farm to Fork kitchen at our headquarters farm in Pittstown. We also filmed a video with the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey addressing the importance of produce in cancer prevention, treatment, and recovery. We will be partnering with them on upcoming webinars on an ongoing basis.
We also expanded our long-time partnership with ShopRite of Hunterdon County. For many years, ShopRite has generously allowed us to pick up extra produce from their stores through our retail gleaning program. However, this year we also began working with their dietician and nutritionist on educational videos, again from our Farm to Fork kitchen.
These are just some of the initiatives that have taken place this year, and they are in addition to the numerous partnerships we have with regional schools to conduct in-person and online/virtual education. COVID-19 has been devastating on so many levels, but one thing it never did was deter us from our mission of helping to feed those in need. No doubt we will sometimes face obstacles moving forward, but that will not stop us from plowing ahead.