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A Match Made in Concord

Say the words “food pantry,” and most people think of canned vegetables and boxes of pasta. But more and more, a large portion of the food that pantries give out is fresh and local.

So when Open Table’s community dinner and food pantry looked to expand their fresh food offerings, naturally they looked to Gaining Ground, which also serves the Concord-Maynard area.

“The most expensive thing that people have to buy is produce—locally grown fresh and organic is a rarity for most shoppers otherwise,” explains Pam Gardner, Open Table’s pantry director.

Last year, Gaining Ground supplied more than 14,000 pounds of fresh produce to Open Table. But it’s the first-rate quality of Gaining Ground’s produce that sets Open Table apart.

“The high quality, fresh and nutritionally dense produce is better than what most of our volunteers eat at home,” says Open Table Executive Director Jeanine Calabria. “To me, this is what makes us so successful: being able to source food that everyone would want to eat, not surplus or waste foods.”

Gardner describes it as being akin to a CSA, exposing shoppers to new produce they might not otherwise try and encouraging them to experiment. “Open Table couldn’t purchase this kind of consistent, organic, high quality produce anywhere,” says Gardner. “So the fact that we get it every week without any costs and with an array of in-season vegetables—that’s a win-win for everyone.”

Julie Neubauer, an Open Table shopper, agrees. “As a person living on a fixed income, I so appreciate being able to receive these beautiful, high-quality vegetables I could never afford on my own,” she says. “My doctor wants me to eat more produce to lower my cholesterol and high blood pressure. This helps me to do that.”

Shoppers aren’t the only beneficiaries of the partnership: It’s a boon for the volunteers who arrive each week to pick up the produce.

“The first time I visited Gaining Ground, I felt as if I was entering a special world full of cheerful, hardworking farmers and volunteers who were dedicating their time and impressive energy to the task of feeding as many people as they could with the best vegetables possible,” says Tom, a regular volunteer for Open Table. “Everyone I have encountered has been so friendly and helpful; it has often been the highlight of my week to go there.”

But it’s the high quality of the produce that stands out for Calabria and Gardner, quality that means more food going into shoppers’ bags and not the compost bin. It’s a time saver they both appreciate as they work to feed people locally.

“We couldn’t do what we do without groups like Gaining Ground,” says Calabria. “We are so fortunate to have them as a partner in addressing area food insecurity.”