For the past three years, and through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nourishing Neighbors program at The Ecology Center has been supporting food-insecure families in South Orange County, California with produce and pantry items, as well as fresh, handmade meals crafted from our farm’s organic seasonal produce. In this time, we have donated tens of thousands of pounds of food to families.
Launched during the height of 2020’s pandemic lockdown, Nourishing Neighbors has been successful beyond our imagination, meeting the needs of our community while also helping us develop and deepen relationships. Today, using the insights gained through these relationships, we are looking toward the next evolution of this essential program.
This year’s Nourishing Neighbors efforts have already given us much to celebrate. We have supported hundreds of individuals with a weekly offering of nutrient-dense, ready-to-eat meals prepared from ingredients harvested from our 28-acre Regenerative Organic Certified™ farm and supplied by our local food producer partners. In addition to providing high-quality nutrition with the added benefit of convenience, we adhered to a zero-waste model by packaging meals in reusable/returnable mason jars. In addition, families were invited to “shop” for free from a mini farm stand with a selection of freshly harvested produce from the farm. For some families, this offering provided almost the entirety of their weekly sustenance. In total, we provided 1,633 prepared meals and over 3,000 pounds of fresh organic produce.
We’ve also seen a powerful impact from the efforts of our volunteer corps. Our steadfast regular culinary volunteer staff, joined by corporate volunteer groups, local students, and others have stepped up to help feed our neighbors in need. The result has been a remarkable six months of community building.
As we look ahead to the future of Nourishing Neighbors, it has been helpful to consider the three main objectives within our original vision for the program:
1. Provide and increase access to healthy, organic, locally grown food for food-insecure families in our region.
2. Facilitate the deepening of relationship between people and their food source.
3. Increase equity and expand diversity in our Village by providing access to food and programming that ultimately contributes to the health and wellness of all members.
Keeping these objectives in mind, while incorporating insights from the past few years of the program, we’ve developed several exciting new features to implement into Nourishing Neighbors over the coming months:
1. Families will be able to use EBT in our farm stand, effective immediately.
2. All EBT purchases in the Farm Stand will be matched by our donors, effectively providing EBT recipients with a 50% discount.
3. We will continue a regular free pop up farm stand and have hopes to branch out into local neighborhoods with this offering.
4. We will continue to offer scholarships across all educational and engagement programming.
5. We will continue our Feast Verde field trip series for students in economically disadvantaged communities.
6. We will continue to partner with local organizations and schools for outreach and collaboration.
We are confident that this integrated model will create impact that goes beyond mere food assistance. By making regenerative produce more accessible to everyone in our community, and respecting the agency of families to choose how they nourish themselves and their children, we hope to foster a sense of dignity and belonging that, in turn, benefits our Village through deeper and more diverse relationships, all the while increasing and ensuring access to healthy organic food. We envision all of our neighbors enjoying the abundance of our farm, our culture, and all that The Ecology Center has to offer.
If you would like to become a supporter of our Nourishing Neighbors program, click here to make a donation.