AC3 Pod Cast Episode 7 Farm For Folks

Interview with Elise Bunce from Farm For Folks

April 8, 2022

picture of alger county with AC3 logo and words United and Thriving, Alger County Communities That Care

Welcome to the Alger County Communities That Care podcast series. I am Vicki Ballas, Alger and Marquette County Community Nutrition Instructor for Michigan State University Extension. MSUExtension is partnering with Alger County Communities That Care or AC3 for short, to provide informative and real conversations from our community. AC3 is a coalition of community members working together to keep Alger County united and thriving by providing programs and resources that promote a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for all youth and adults in Alger County. Welcome to the Alger County Communities That Care podcast. This is our seventh episode, and today we have Elise Bunce who also happens to be an AC3 member, she is here to talk with us about the Farm For Folks program in Alger County. So thanks for coming today, Elise.

Elise Bunce: Thank you.

Vicki: I'm glad you're here. So the AC3, we support the Farm For folks program, of course. But this is really your baby Elise. Can you tell us how it started and what it's all about?

Elise: Sure. So about three years ago, maybe a little more. I was wondering how we can get good, healthy produce to different families that don't have access on a regular basis to like the farmer's market or going to the grocery store or whatever. We threw around a few ideas, some farmers and myself and some of those ideas were collecting produce at the end of Saturdays markets and then somehow distributing them on Sunday. And that logistically that was pretty difficult and we ended up with trying to figure out how to get the farmers to get paid a fair wage for their produce and distribute it to the homes directly. And it ended up being called Farms For Folks, which is currently about seven or eight farms that participate as suppliers. And they supply either produce or pork, eggs, honey or whatever products the farm has. And then There's a volunteers who distribute the food and pick up from the farms. And then it's all paid for by sponsors who are community members and businesses. So that's the the basic nuts and bolts of it. How it works is it starts June 24th this year and goes through the middle of September. So it's a full 12 weeks and it starts now. because now we start looking for sponsors to give us some donations to keep us going. We put lots of posters out and Facebook and social media calls for people who wish to receive free CSA box, which is the boxful, the produce and in products from the farms. And then we also start looking for volunteers. So that starts now. And looking for participants who received the free CSA box, they can call my number, which I'll give to you at the end of this podcast, by April 30th. And then I'm still collecting volunteers. I have quite a few already. A lot of the same volunteers who have done it for the past two years. And then in May, we meet with the farmers and we meet with the volunteers. I handout thank you notes to the sponsors for giving their donations. And then in June, the program starts. How it goes on a day-to-day basis is it's every Friday and I'm the one who picks up all of the groceries and all of the products from the farms. So I leave my house around nine o'clock in the morning. On Fridays, I visit all the farms who give me all their fresh produce and how they bundle it is in bunches that are small enough, that are about $4 a bunch is a fair share market. And they have to make up anywhere between 20 and 24 bunches. And that number comes from, and I'll backtrack a little bit here to the 20 families or individuals that we will be delivering to. So backtracking a little bit and talking about how we get our participants is they, like I said, they call me, they give me their information and they get put in one of three piles. They get put in either a Grand Marais pile meaning they live in Grand Marais. They live in the Munising area. They live in Western Alger County. And then after April 30th, when we have all the people which last year was like over 50 people. And since we only service 20, I put each area into a hat and I literally pull names. And then those are the people that are now in this year's program. And when I call them up, they I don't ask for their need or if they are unable to get produce. We kind of assume by the information that goes out in the community that if they signed up for the program, they need it. So we really don't ask very many questions at that point. And they have to be available on Fridays. And if they're not going to be available on those Fridays, they have to have someone else there to pick it up. I've told the volunteers that we're not leaving any CSAs outside because one, it's hot and sunny. And also sometimes we have frozen product. It's like frozen pork or eggs. And they have to know that the CSA boxes is not goin to be left, if they have not set up something in advance, if they're not going to be there. And then once the participants give those commitments to me, the program begins. And the volunteers, there are several volunteers. And they will do either the Munising run, the Grand Marais run, or the western Alger County run. So once I've picked up all of the produce, I go to the North Farm a MSU. I open up my back, my car where all the produce is. Western Alger County Volunteer meets me and she takes her seven or six shares. And then I drive to Munising and I drop off to the Munising volunteer her six or seven shares. And then I drive to Grand Marias and I do the running Grand Marais myself.

Vicki: Wow!

Elise: Yeah. There are times that I'm not available of course because it's summer. And I have volunteers who helped me out with that whole process. So I have someone who will pick up the produce and then meet somebody to go to Grand Marias. Volunteers receive a gas card, either $30 or $50. If they're going to Grand Marias, then they also receive a free share of the week. So when I said that the farmers have to bundle 20 to 24 shares. That depends how many volunteer shares they have to, to donate. And I want to make it clear that the farmers are donating that amount of that money's worth of share to the volunteer is each week. This year we're going to increase the price to the farmers just a little bit because all prices have gone up. Doing farming myself, I, it's astounding how expensive things are this year. And I want to make it equitable for the farmers, solid produce for the participants, a value for the sponsors that give us the money to do so.

Vicki: That sounds like quite an operation.

Elise: You know, it is, but it's super simple. One of the other farmers who was not in the program this year setup a spreadsheet for us to use. And it's nice because the farmers can access that spreadsheet online. And then they can sign up for what kind of produce they want for the week. And as farming goes, sometimes things don't grow as you want them to and they have to substitute and that's fine. But basically it's pretty simple. And then every four weeks, so three times the farmers get paid, I tally up how much they contributed to the shares and that four weeks and then they get a check cut. And then I deliver that check on that following week. And AC3 , they are wonderful because they are acting as our fiduciary so that people who send in money know that it is in a secure place that is not going to be misused.

Vicki: right! Yes, definitely. So what have the farmers reported back to you on how they feel about this program?

Elise: You know, they really like it for two reasons. One is this particular group of farmers are really community oriented. They really do want to help the community, those in need of our community. And they also realize that they're getting their fair share, their market value. And it's also like even though it's not a lot of money, it is a steady source of income for that 12 weeks. Two of the farmers are, one for sure, I'm hoping to get another farmer enlisted will be new this year. So I will pair them up with one of the other seasoned farmers. So they know what a bunch looks like. How many potatoes do I given in a share? And they can kind of be mentored through the program. But it's really, really simple. Because Fridays I pick up produce, I give it to the volunteers and it's given to the families home. And that's it.

Vicki: Ya, Can you tell us who those farmers are?

Elise: Well, let's see. There is Full Plate in Trenary, Tanells Farms. There the mushroom people. There's Clover Leaf Farms. They are honey and eggs and actually they're not in Alger County. I'm hoping there'll be here this year. I have yet to contact the farmers after Mighty Soils Farm is no longer going to be with us. They are the ones that were my mediary between Clover Farms there at the new farm. I can't remember their name, so maybe we better not list the farms. Case County Farms and trying to think where else do I go? Oh, there's Katie Moore. She does makes bread out of her farm in Chatham . And then there's Gabe's Farm in, just on the border of Alger and Marquette County there's probably like seven or eight farms all together.

Vicki: Yes, wonderful. Especially that they're getting paid because that's the key to a sustainable farm, you need to get paid for produce and those other items that you're producing. We're always asking people to donate things, but the farmers, they need to get paid, but they are donating some produce for the volunteers, which that's awesome too! And what about the participants? Would have you heard from them about the program?

Elise: So part of the process and part of them agreeing to be in the program is that there is a pre questionnaire that I do on the phone with them? Things like, are you allergic to any certain vegetable? Do you have what it takes to cook vegetables at home? You know, do you have pots and pans? Do you can? do you freeze? Would you share this with your neighbor? And so that's the beginning. And then each week they answer a very simple questionnaire, which is what did you think of your box. Did you have any extras? Was there something that you really had no clue about and learned about in this box and in the box each week. MSU, wonderful about getting me recipes on.....

Vicki: that's me!

Elise: how to use what's in the box. Then I also usually put in maybe another recipe if one doesn't fit exactly or more off I put in, you know, something about the produce in each of them. have the nutritional info, how much, what's in it and how many calories are in a serving that's usually given to them and maybe a little history about the produce or vegetable. And I was uncertain how many people would actually read that, but I'm finding a lot of people read that and many people have used the recipes. So I think that, that educational component of farms for folks is more valuable than I thought.

Vicki: Yeah, that's always important. I've looked at that spreadsheet and there are some unusual items in there and I tried taking up recipes that included those. So people would be like, what am I gonna do with this, you know, right?

Elsie: Exactly! And then at the end of the season there's a longer questionnaire that the farmers, the participants and the volunteers all complete and that kind of gives me guidance on where to go. I have not received a single bad complaint from the participants. They very, very much appreciate it being delivered at home. Since many of these people are younger families and senior citizens. And the basis of the program from the very beginning was to make sure that the home delivery is possible, because this is for people who don't have access to healthy foods during the summer when they're most bountiful.

Vicki: And this produce and the other items that the farmers make, such a high-quality items too, it's not their scraps or their leftovers or old stuff , it's some good, high-quality produce.

Elise: It's clean, that's one of the things that the participants are asked. What shape did you find your vegetables where they clean, Were they not wilted? Where they delicious and fresh and all of the produce is pick the day before. There's very little that's picked prior at all. And they're all held in good containers are all packaged really nicely. Lot of the farmers are organic, either certified organic or they use organic practices exclusively.

Vicki: Ya, the best stuff you can get! And fresh and local and so it's going to taste the best, is going to have the most nutrients still contained in it. And it just sounds like a win, win for everybody, even the volunteers.

Elise: It is a win-win. Yeah, it is when some of the people like the individuals, like some of the elderly individual people that we deliver to, they have extra produce and I'm always encouraging them, you know, share with your neighbor and they do.

Vicki: What's the value of a whole box each week?

Elise: That's a great question. So this year I'm going to try something different and talk to the farmers about it. Before for the past two years because this will be the third year for our program, the value is anywhere from two to like $10 per item. Now, when you look at it, produce can be cheaper anywhere from like two to $5. But the pork and the eggs and the honey, that's more expensive. Value item. We figured that each CSA box each week per family is worth about 24 to $25. And depending on how much we make each year so far, we have been able to embellish that a little bit rather than have a big excess of money. And we will embellish that by either another produce item or one of the other products from the farms like last year and the year before, we had bread every week, a low for fresh bread every week and, or pork or bacon, or eggs or honey and a duck eggs, for example, so that is what we hope for. And so far our sponsorship input, money's coming in is, is pretty good, or about 1000 short of what we really need. And the problem with getting all that money is that the cost for the educational part of it. Okay. The paper, the printing is going to be wonderful now that you at MSU are going to help me with that because that was coming off my own computer. And then gas cards are probably the most expensive and tossing around this year whether or not to decrease them and then the price of gas shot up, we're not going to reduce those. So each of those $30 cards and $50 cards add up. I do not take any gas money because I really liked the drive to Grand Marias (chuckles) I enjoy it very much and it's on my time and I don't want a gas card. But when someone covers me, when I'm not there, that person gets a $50 gas card that's like $900 or more in just gas cards. The over head of the program. That's pretty much it. It's probably close to maybe $1300 tops. One thing that we did spend money on last year because we had this extra money from our sponsors was we were using paper bags to put our produce, but everybody washes their produce and it's still a little wet when I get it in the morning and the bags would be a mass. So Gabe at his farm had these small green plastic boxes that we now recycle and we have enough so that one week they get a box, and then the next week they return their old box and we give them a new box. So there's two boxes for each family, and then I wash and clean the boxes in between. And it's all nice because it's just, it's not messy at all.

Vicki: So Elsie talk about your sponsors, your donors, like in the past. How much money have you raised from local citizens and what are you looking for this year or don't you know yet?

Elise: Well, last year we ended up with about $1700 in savings and we needed $6,500 to cover the CSA shares. And so we figured with the 1700 in savings that would cover our overhead. So we're looking for about 6500 and I think we're close to 5000 already. And I will tell you that I am always amazed at how giving Alger County is. It just blows me away. And there are individuals. There are more businesses this year that gave this year and I send out a sponsorship letter in February to several businesses around the area that I know can handle it and a I'm ecstatic when I even get if one business pays for one week for one person because it all adds up to something. And then I have a lot of out-of-state people and I haven't asked them why are you giving to this program. (both laugh) But I don't know if they are older residents that used to live here or they know someone here. But maybe four or five people. They don't even live in the state.

Vicki: Yeah. That's great. Yeah. People are very generous and people are very kind.

Elise: And then last year when we, when we had our stimulus checks from COVID, many people donated a chunk of that.

Vicki: That's just gives you hope does it?

Vicki: So Elise is there anything that we missed, that you wanted to add?

Elise: We could definitely use more volunteers. The volunteers I have are awesome, but I really only expect a volunteer to maybe pitch in two or three Friday, certainly not every Friday. That's a heck of a commitment for a lot of people.

Vicki: How many do you operate with? Elise: Eight or nine usually is what I have. And we meet together on Zoom and I send out ahead of time the schedule. And then everybody usually picks two weekends. And they understand that if they can't make it that weekend there first thing is to try find somebody else. And then if they can't I'll just do the run myself, I just let my people know I'll be an hour longer, you know, our later because it's really not that hard. It's really easy. And the hardest thing is the first run. When you're trying to find the houses after that, it's a piece of cake.

Vicki: Yeah. (both laugh) Imagine, well, at least it's really generous of you to drive all that way and not take gas cards and cover for the volunteers all your time putting all this together. So thank you for providing this wonderful program,

Elise: Thank you. I completely and thoroughly enjoy it. I do. I would do it if I didn't love it.

Vicki: Yeah, I can tell you. Did you want to give out that information for more donors to participate?

Elise: If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or a participant to receive the CSA share at home, or be a sponsor, you can leave a message on my phone. I'm not real good at picking that, but I am good at looking at it. And that is my phone number is 9062504825 or you can email me or text me either one. Same address. It is eliseb as in boy, @ tds...Tom, Dave, Steve, dot net

Vicki: Well, thank you Elise for that, appreciate you put those numbers out there in your email. Hopefully you'll get some more people that want to participate. And again, what a wonderful program. I've been trying to offer nutrition classes online or I could do them in person too at maybe these locations, I'm not sure. But I would love to do a nutrition series with this program.

Elise: I think that would be a great idea. I know we tried it last year and not enough participants. But those that did want were really sad.

Vicki: Yeah. I'll keep trying. I will send you a flyer to send out to people, we'll keep trying! we'll see if we can't get this.

Elise: The people who want to be participants who want the free produce, they need to get a hold of me by April 30th because after that date, I'm not accepting any names at all.

Vicki: Okay. Well, wonderful. All right. Well, thank you again Elise for coming and letting us all know about this wonderful program Farms For Folks and you have a wonderful day!

Elise: Thanks!

Vicki: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Alger County communities that care, promoting a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for all youth and adults. We hope you tune into our next episode. For more information on AC3, visit us online at Alger Funding for this podcast comes from the US Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. MSU is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer committed to achieving excellence through a diverse workforce and inclusive culture that encourages all people to reach their full potential. Michigan State University Extension programs. And the materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, or veteran status issued in furtherance of MSU Extension. Work acts of May eighth and June 30th, 1914 in cooperation with the US Department of Agriculture. This information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or biased against those not mentioned.

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