KAYTE YOUNG: Production support comes from:
Bloomingfoods Coop Market, providing residents with locally sourced food since 1976. Owned by over 12,000 residents in Monroe County and beyond. More at Bloomingfoods.Coop.
And Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent, providing customized financial services for individuals, businesses, disabled adults including tax planning, bill paying, and estate services. More at Personal Financial Services dot net.
(Earth Eats theme music)
KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I'm Kayte Young, and this is Earth Eats.
AMANDA NICKEY: One of the things that's like slowly hit me over the last week is how unprepared most people are for a crisis like this.
KAYTE YOUNG: This week on our show we talk with CEO Amanda Nickey of Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard a local food pantry making adjustments to continue to get food to the people who need it most. And we check in with local farmer's markets, to hear how they're working to get fresh food from the farm to the table while maintaining that crucial distance. That's all coming up so stay tuned.
Food is essential. While restaurants and cafes around the country are closed or moving to take out and delivery in response to COVID-19 restrictions the grocery stores remain open. Truck drivers are now allowed to stay on the road longer to keep food on the shelves. And migrant farm workers continue to plant, tend, and harvest crops in the field. And in my town, Bloomington Indiana, the Hoosier Hills Food Bank is still running. They're supplying organizations like the Community Kitchen and Shalom Center and Mother Hubbard's Cupboard with food, for those in our community who struggle to get food on the table in the best of times, let alone in the middle of a pandemic. But even these essential service providers are making dramatic changes to the way they operate. Late last week I spoke with Amanda Nikki, president and CEO of Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, known locally as The Hub, a community food resource center in Bloomington Indiana.
AMANDA NICKEY: We offer food pantry that operates kind of like a grocery store. WE try to offer as much fresh food as possible, people can just walk through the pantry and pick the items that they want, and then we also offer education programming, so we have cooking and gardening programming, a tool share that is a lending library of cooking and gardening tools. We have kids programming, kids cook and kids gardening workshops, and then we also do advocacy around local state and national issues affecting hunger and poverty.
KAYTE YOUNG: Do you consider the work that you do at Mother Hubbard’s to be an essential service? Like as this is kind of coming up right now during this crisis, there’s a lot of talk about what are the essential services. Do you consider this an essential service?
AMANDA NICKEY: Yeah, I mean I think simply because folks rely on us week to week just to make it, we have become an essential service. I think one of the things that's like slowly hit me over the last week is how unprepared most people are for a crisis like this. It's not like responding to a natural disaster, where the harm or the risk has happened, or you know the disaster has happened and now you’re going into a community and trying to meet the food needs. You know food banks have lots of experience with that kind of thing but when I think about you know what we're all going through right now like, we're all at risk all the time. And that's something that I’m trying to wrap my brain around. How do we as emergency food providers respond to the everyday need, the crisis need, and the real risk to ourselves? And to others that we're interacting with. And that's something that I it's just, I know that everyone is saying this, it's unprecedented, but it is. And that's the thing that I don’t, I don't really know, I don't really know what to do. And I you know, right now, today we're an essential service. Unless someone else or you know, someone from the government or the military or something steps in and takes control over this, then you know we are an essential service.
KAYTE YOUNG: What do you think that this crisis tells us or can tell us about how we deal with hunger in the U.S.?
AMANDA NICKEY: I mean I think mostly that it's highlighting how much of our everyday lives food banks, and food pantries and soup kitchens have become, that you know, when someone needs food then these are the ways that they should go about getting it, instead of really trying to address those root causes, and that it's an inadequate response, and that it's, you know, the people who rely on our services and you know people all over the country who rely on similar services just to make it through the week, that these are the people that are gonna be at a higher risk of contracting the virus and getting seriously ill because they have to be out there, they have to get food wherever they can during the week from as many resources as are available to them. They don’t have the option of going to the store and buying several weeks’ worth of food, or ordering things online and having it delivered to their home. I just I think that it's highlighting all of the different ways that we actually have a different food system who are experiencing poverty.
KAYTE YOUNG: Do you think it's the responsibility of charities like a food pantry to meet this need?
AMANDA NICKEY: I think that's a difficult question because I think that the community as a whole feels that it's role. To meet the need during this crisis, right? But I have to feel a little bit like, at least for me, I don’t' feel fully equipped to deal with this crisis and to do the work that we are supposed to do. You know, we, we're really good at running the organization that we have, but this is something that we've never ever had to experience. And I think that you know, we're being careful, and we're taking precautions, and I know that all the other organizations in our community are doing the same thing, and we're all doing the best that we can with what we have. But it feels I don't know it feels a little bit lonely. It feels a little bit like we're just making it up as we go and hoping that we're doing the right thing. So, I mean is it a responsibility, is it an obligation, is it our role, I think those are a little bit different things. I know that all of, I'm speaking for the hub, but probably all organizations in town too, like we do feel like if we don't do this, who’s going to? But we feel like that everyday anyway because that's just the reality of the work that we do. That if we don’t provide food for people who need it in our community, who else is going to do that? Wages aren't going up, housing isn't getting cheaper. The people who have power to change the conditions in our community aren't doing that, and so we have to be here every day, doing the things that we do, and now in this crisis that at least I don't feel fully equipped to handle, we have to keep doing that, and we have to do more and we have to take on more of a risk, more of a risk than we've ever had to do before.
KAYTE YOUNG: The first change that they made was to cancel all programming except for food distribution.
AMANDA NICKEY: We stopped all of our non-essential programming. So, workshops and all of our cooking demos, the drop-in classes that we have, kids cook, all of our kids programming. We suspended the tool share, rentals, right now. Mostly we just don't have the capacity to deal with the tool share program on top of everything else.
KAYTE YOUNG: Then they limited the number of people allowed in the pantry at one time. Quickly they switched to a pickup system outside on the patio and asked people to approach one at a time.
AMANDA NICKEY: And we set up some cone barriers that just said, "Stop here, one household at a time" and asked people to just walk up, tell us if they wanted, what kind of meat they wanted. There were some options that people could choose from. We prep the box; we take it to a table that's 6 feet from the cones. When we walk away after dropping the box down, then we would tell folks they could come up and pick up their box.
KAYTE YOUNG: On Monday, March 16th, they made the difficult decision to prohibit volunteers on site.
AMANDA NICKEY: We have, you know, anywhere between 4 and 500 volunteers on an annual basis, and dozens each day on different shifts, and it's just too many people to try to catch up to speed every day. And we wanted to make our best effort to close our circle and limit the number of people that we're in close contact with, and it just seemed like the best thing to do, is to minimize who was gonna be in the building and who was going to be packing the boxes and who was going to be in close quarters together. So, we narrowed it down to just staff, and it feels terrible. And I know that you know, this is the kind of situation that people want to do. They wanna take some kind of action, and I know it's so hard for so many people to know that the best action they can do, is to stay at home. It was heartbreaking to have to tell so many of our regular volunteers last week, that we love you and we wish you could be here, but you can't. The best thing you can do for us is to stay home. And to support us from afar.
KAYTE YOUNG: Mhm. And you normally have a spring fundraiser, like a gathering?
AMANDA NICKEY: Yeah, at this time of the year I would be panicking and having anxiety about a different issue and it would be our harvest team breakfast. This year it was to be held on April 2nd, it's the largest fundraiser that we have of the year and it raises over 100,000 dollars for our programs. These are the donations that allow us to do the food pantry but also our like other really innovative programming, or educational programming, our tool share, the advocacy work that we do. And so, the loss of that fundraiser is pretty devastating for us. We're seeing donations online and coming through the mail. But once things get a little more routine or settled for us, once we adjust to the new normal, we're gonna have to make a game plan for making up for that fundraiser. It's the kind of event where people make a multiyear pledge, so they're giving us a gift this year, but they're also pledging a donation for 5 years out. So, this is going to have a ripple effect for the next five years for us.
I do want to talk about the community response, because we've seen a lot of support from the community and I think a lot of organizations in town have, and I’m sure organizations all over the country have. But we've seen an amazing outpouring of support either financially or with resources. We desperately needed boxes last week and we were getting box deliveries all day every day from folks in the community. We've had a lot of financial donations that are really really helpful right now. Other businesses in town who have dropped off supplies for us, gloves or boxes, food, beer. (laughs) those kinds of things. Just to help us kind of get through each day. Has been really it's been really moving for me, sometimes this work can seem really lonely, and sometimes it feels like people in the community don’t really understand how serious the situation is every day, and so for people to come out and show us this kind of support right now it means a lot. Even just the email messages or the voicemail messages that we're getting from folks that are saying "thank you" or the posts on Facebook that are just saying "thank you for being there" or "thank you for doing this" or you know "keep at it, you’re doing a great job" it's helping us, it’s helping us get through each day.
(in background: thank you!)
KAYTE YOUNG: So, they were down to six staff members, focused on a new system of packing up food boxes and handing them out in the parking lot. I stopped by on Friday in keeping my distance, I observed their system for the last two hours of the day. The staff arranged stools and rope in the parking lot with signage directing people to the tent. The lot could hold about six cars at once. It was full for the entire two hours with cars backed up down the street. A few folk without cars walked up and stepped into the line. Each household could take the number of boxes that they needed and had a choice between fish and chicken and an option for a gallon of milk.
AMANDA NICKEY: It's an incredibly different model than what we're used to.
KAYTE YOUNG: Full disclosure, I worked at the hub for seven years. Central to the organization's mission is serving people with dignity, offering choice, and building relationships. Handing someone a prepackaged box wearing a face mask and gloves, and keeping a six-foot distance, goes against everything the hub stands for.
(thanks, thank you!)
KAYTE YOUNG: Amanda, Sara, Liz, Kristen, Hannah and Alissa, managed to keep their spirits up, cracking jokes, cranking the music from the warehouse. At one point when a patron had trouble hearing the meat choices, Amanda resorted to gesturing. Fish, moving her hand like a wave, then, chicken? with thumbs in her armpits she flapped her arms like chicken wings.
(FISH OR CHICKEN? (laughter) ah chicken!")
KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] It was impossible not to laugh out loud or at least crack a smile.
AMANDA NICKEY: [To patron] Okay, there you go."
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: "Thanks guys for everything"
AMANDA NICKEY: "thank you, be careful"
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: "Thanks for your work"
AMANDA NICKEY: "Stay safe!"
KAYTE YOUNG: And I observed another gesture from Amanda. After the boxes for a household were gathered on the table and ready for pickup, Amanda would let them know "here you go, thanks" and she'd go give the sides of the boxes several affectionate pats with her gloved hands before walking back to her station to maintain that six foot distance.
AMANDA NICKEY: Here you go (pat pat)
KAYTE YOUNG: I read those pats as her intention to connect, almost a virtual hug. A way to say "I can’t be close to you, but I care about you"
AMANDA NICKEY: We need one or two boxes
KAYTE YOUNG: There wasn't a lot of room for such tenderness in these interactions. For the sake of clarity, it was mostly reduced to instructions and requests, often yelled across the distance and over the hum of idling cars. But Amanda found a way.
AMANDA NICKEY: Do you need water ?????
KAYTE YOUNG: It seems like that's what people are doing all over in our community as adjusting to this new normal
AMANDA NICKEY: Do you want milk?
KAYTE YOUNG: Finding a way. Neighbors on the brain park listserv organized 150 safety packs with essential hygiene and protective items for shalom to hand out to those experiencing homelessness. I'm hearing stories like this from around the country and across the globe. After a short break we'll hear how local farmers and food vendors are finding ways to get food to their customers. And even to those who can afford to pay. Stay with us.
AMANDA NICKEY: Do you want one or two boxes? Fish or chicken? Milk?
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: Chicken, one box of chicken
AMANDA NICKEY: one box
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: yes
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: Thanks
(piano music plays out)
(Earth Eats production support music)
KAYTE YOUNG: Production support comes from:
Insurance agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive auto, business and home coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at 812-336-6838. Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial and community projects. Sustainable, energy positive and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. Bill at griffy creek dot studio. Bloomingfoods Coop Market, providing residents with locally sourced food since 1976. Owned by over 12,000 residents in Monroe County and beyond. More at Bloomingfoods.Coop.
KAYTE YOUNG: WFIU is here for you, keeping you connected to the world by bringing the world to your home. Even in extraordinary times we're committed to bringing you the accurate information you need and the beautiful music and compelling stories you count on. This week we'd intended to hold our spring fund drive, in light of the coronavirus crisis, we made the decision to postpone it, in order to provide you and your neighbors with uninterrupted programming. But our funding needs remain the same. If you're in a position to help WFIU with financial support, please make a gift at WFIU.org/donate. Your donation in any amount will help ensure WFIU's future and allow us to continue to be a vital resource in our community in the days, months and years to come. Thank you.
(Piano transition music, solemn cords)
KAYTE YOUNG: One of the beautiful things about community farmer's markets is, well, the community. People gathering on Saturday to celebrate local food, grab a coffee, and maybe pastry, listen to music and bump into friends and neighbors. With the social distancing now required to slow he spread of covid19 local farmers markets are shifting gears to get food to customers and get cash to farmers all while keeping everyone from spreading the virus. The Bloomington winter farmers market at switchyard park pavilion had just three markets left in their season when the restrictions went into effect, preventing the Saturday gathering from taking place as usual. That first week the market was cancelled, but it didn't take time for market master Addison Lively, and the market board, to regroup.
ADDISON LIVELY: Our treasure at one point she was like, okay, here's an idea, what if we do a sort of drive through market?", like it was suggested that we take that we get items from vendors that will be available, and allow customers to order them essentially online, ahead of time, and pay for them ahead of time so that come Saturday we can have, all of the vendors can have their orders together and we can fill them as customers pull up, and they can just pick up their order. we can just hand it, you know, in their backseat, we can toss it in their trunk, just to avoid as a little contact, human contact, as possible.
KAYTE YOUNG: On Saturday morning cars lined up in the spacious parking lot and runners approached cars, got the name, and headed back to the pavilion to gather the order. It all took time, there were plenty of kinks to work out. But the farmers and the vendors sold their products and the customers got their local food fix. I spoke with a market customer Carl Ipsen (unable to locate spelling reference), from a distance, while he waited for his order on Saturday. I asked him what he ordered
CARL IPSEN: I ordered jam, beans, eggs, chicken, collards, kale, spinach, coffee, bread and croissant. (laughs)
KAYTE YOUNG: Sounds like a market run.
CARL IPSEN: Yeah, yeah
KAYTE YOUNG: And how’d you get here?
CARL IPSEN: On my bike, I cut the line. I'm not planning to wait in that line of cars.
KAYTE YOUNG: Addison says there was a lot of improvising involved.
ADDISON LIVELY: We were able to find a routine that worked for us. It was gonna be chaotic no matter how thick or thorough we tried to be. And it was chaotic, 9 to 12:30 we had a line of cars to get through, but we were able to do it for the vast majority of customers they, that was what they needed.
KAYTE YOUNG: That was Addison Lively, market master at the Bloomington winter farmer's market at switchyard park pavilion. This Saturday March 28th is their last market of the season.
another local market though is just getting started.
BRANDI WILLIAMS: My name is Brandi Williams. I'm a member of the people's market planning committee, it was sort of inspired by the eastside farmers market that took place in 2019. and has developed now into the people’s market with the original intention of having an on the ground location in the parking lot of the east side Bloomingfoods. When the covid19 challenges arose in our community obviously we had some constraints.
KAYTE YOUNG: The planning committee shifted gears and created the people's CSA, their order form is streamlined into a produce box with a variety of items from various farmers, and a bread and egg box. Their adding a dessert box this week. The people CSA also has the option of sponsoring a share for someone who can't afford to pay, and the option of ordering a box free of charge.
BRANDI WILLIAMS: This week I think we have sold 390 boxes at the combination of produce, bread and egg boxes, as well as dessert boxes. And this week out of the 390 boxes that were purchased 158 of those were sponsored boxes that will go to families in need.
KAYTE YOUNG: Pickup for the people's CSA takes place on Saturdays in the Kmart parking lot next to Bloomingfoods on the eastside. The shares are on a table and customers are asked to keep the required six-foot distance when picking up their shares. They'll be modifying their process and their offerings in the coming weeks as they settle into the season and to what might be the new normal.
Bloomington's largest and longstanding market, Bloomington community farmer's market held at city hall, was also scheduled to open April 4th. I spoke with Rachel Beyer, she's the local food coordinator working with the city of Bloomington.
RACHEL BEYER: Farmers markets and farm stands are still considered essential like grocery stores which is really great news, I’m glad that the state of Indiana sees that as important. But there are still community health concerns so the city has been working to try to head up an online platform that customers could shop from individual vendors like they normally would outside, but virtually instead, and then fill a shopping cart and buy from as many vendors as they wanted and pay online and then pick up at a drive through location probably switchyard park, so we have acquired the software to do that and now we're in the process of integrating it with all of the city you know accounts and systems which is time consuming and tricky. so, we aren't exactly sure about the timeline of when this platform is going to be able to open, we are currently aiming for the first Saturday in April, but we will know more by the end of the week, about the actual timeline.
KAYTE YOUNG: And Rachel had this to add about local farmers and vendors.
RACHEL BEYER: A lot of the farms that sell at farmers markets, they don’t really have a lot of other outlets for their products, and so they really depend on community members showing up to buy their beautiful food every week. And we are doing our best to organize this alternate option so that people can continue to do that in a safe way during this health crisis and keep in mind that buying directly from a local farmer, the number of people who have touched the food before it gets to you is way less than if you were buying it from a grocery store and it had been shipped across the country or world. So, it's really important to support local businesses in our community during this difficult time.
KAYTE YOUNG: That was Rachel Beyer, talking about the Bloomington Community Farmers' market, one of several area farmers' markets switching to an online ordering and pickup service to comply with the public gathering restrictions in response to the COVID19 coronavirus pandemic. We have more information and links to all of the markets mentioned in this episode on our website EarthEats.org.
That's it for this week's show, thanks for tuning in. Keep in touch but keep your distance and take good care, of yourselves and each other. We'll be back next week.
(Earth eats theme music)
RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Chad Bouchard, Mark Chilla, Abraham Hill, Taylor Killough, Josephine McRobbie, Daniel Orr, The IU Food Institute, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.
KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Amanda Nickey and everyone at the Hub, stacy deckar, Brandi Williams, Addison Lively, marahsa veldman, and Rachel Beyer.
Production support comes from Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent, providing customized financial services for individuals, businesses, disabled adults including tax planning, bill paying, and estate services. More at Personal Financial Services dot net. Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial and community projects. Sustainable, energy positive and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. Bill at griffy creek dot studio. And Insurance agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive auto, business and home coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at 812-336-6838.