CEAP’S Farm Fresh Fest Builds Community
We cannot do our work alone, especially during produce season when there’s an increased opportunity to get locally-grown, excess produce onto the tables of our hungry neighbors. Every year, CEAP, one of our nearly 1,000 agency partners, hosts Farm Fresh Fest to not only gets fresh food to people in need, but foster relationships and connectedness to the community.
Recently, we asked Rachel Hickok, Director of Development at CEAP a few questions about the organization, the community we serve and the importance of fresh produce.
Can you tell us about CEAP — what is your mission and how are you aiming to end hunger in the Twin Cities?
CEAP’s mission is to help families, in all life stages, gain financial stability and maximize their ability to live independently and with dignity. We are focused on being a place of joy for families, increasing accessibility for those who have difficulty reaching our doorstep, and being a center for health and wellbeing.
How great is the need in the communities you serve?
CEAP has the fastest growing pocket of suburban poverty in Minnesota. Our service area of Northwest Hennepin and Anoka counties includes four census tracts designated as food deserts, and four more that are racially concentrated areas of poverty. Our community experiences significantly higher rates of unemployment, foreclosure, and poverty than the rest of the state. This makes the needs in our community more significant, and not easily solved.
Can you tell us about the people you’re serving?
People come to us from all walks of life. We see seniors on fixed social security incomes, two parent working families, new community members, recently unemployed, and people with disabilities. The reasons for coming to CEAP are unique to each family. The challenges that our families face aren’t problems that will resolve themselves overnight, which is why we create a tightly woven safety net with our partners. We help them with their presenting need (hunger), and connect them to wide array of supportive services that we share with our partners to help them regain their stability. Most cannot resolve their insecurity in just one visit, so their repeat visits are our opportunity to connect them to ways to improve their overall health through cooking and gardening classes, health education, and more.
What’s the importance of offering fresh produce to the individuals in the community?
We want people to come to CEAP when they can’t eat well, not just when they can’t afford to feed themselves. Food insecurity has many co-occurring health conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity. Food is a form of medicine, so it is important for us to not only be able to serve food, but to offer a trajectory towards better health. A box of food might help someone get by, but healthy, fresh produce is a core component of a healthy diet that helps people to thrive.
How is Farm Fresh Fest different than your other food distributions?
Farm Fresh Fest is CEAP’s way of building community in a fun, family-friendly environment. We transform our parking lot into a festival with something for everyone. In addition to fresh produce, CEAP offers kids activities, face painting, music, recipes with food samples, and community resources. Our partners take part by handing out toothbrushes, grilling the hot dogs they donate, providing fun and engaging activities for kids, and helping families to connect to resources that might help them overcome some of the challenges they face. For some families, this is an experience they might not be able to enjoy elsewhere. “This is the first time I’ve had my face painted!” giggled one little girl to one of our volunteers. “This is such a blessing to my family,” was the comment we received from many. It’s moments like these that bring our community together. Hosting Farm Fresh Fest isn’t about the transaction of giving people food; it’s about the relationships grown and the connectedness of our community. It’s a positive community experience for people who experience more than their fair share of struggles. It is a program that is rapidly growing because people enjoy the food and the opportunity to connect with their neighbors in a safe, family-friendly atmosphere.
Why is it important to have partners, like Second Harvest Heartland, to carry on your mission?
CEAP is a highly collaborative agency. We believe we can accomplish more by working together. We have many partners that help us increase our capacity to serve. By working with Second Harvest Heartland, we are able to offer families more and receive large donations of crops straight from area farms. This food brings added joy to families.
Do you have any personal stories that stand out to you that motivate your work?
I’m motivated by the genuine care people have for each other in this community. People give and participate because they know they are helping their neighbor when they give to CEAP. The people who stand out for me are the ones that give as much as they can, even if they don’t have much to give – the volunteers that are also food shelf clients, the former food shelf clients that send in a financial donation or drop a bag of groceries in the food drive container. They share their stories as they give, “CEAP helped me once, and now I’m in a place where I can give back.” That’s the most powerful part of my work.
Thank you Rachel and everyone at CEAP for all of the work that you do to help feed our hungry neighbors!