CARRBORO - Vendors at the Wednesday afternoon Carrboro Farmers' Market one day a few weeks ago might have noticed that a large number of their customers were much shorter than usual.
A group of children aged 4 to 11 fanned out among the tables, each armed with $5. They perused and purchased bundles of lettuce, peppers, flowers and other goods.
Howard McAdams of McAdams Farm in Efland said the most popular item with the kids from his stand was cucumbers. He was grateful for the extra business.
"The more customers we have, the better the farmers are," McAdams said.
These customers were visiting the market as part of the Farm to TABLE program, a recent collaboration between two local organizations that focus exclusively on easing child hunger.
TABLE provides nutritious food for children from low-income families through programs including its Weekend Meal Backpack program, which sends backpacks full of food home with kids during weekends and other times when subsidized school meals aren't available.
Farmer Foodshare provides fresh local food to people at risk for hunger through programs including donation stations at farmers markets.
Joining forces through Farm to TABLE allows both organizations to improve their reach and effectiveness, their organizers say.Humble beginnings
TABLE began with one woman leaving treats on her porch for students walking to and from school.
Joy MacVane used to leave homemade cookies on the porch of her Chapel Hill home twice a month.
"I really liked seeing the students," she said. "They were very friendly and appreciative."
One year, she left a note inviting interested students to come over with their friends to bake homemade goods for the community soup kitchen. Some took her up on the offer and afterward said they would like to do something on a regular basis.
"Students said they want to help feed local hungry children," MacVane said.
That led her to establish TABLE in the fall of 2007. The students who went to MacVane's house were integral in getting the organization started, and two students serve on the board of directors.
The organization's main effort involves providing children who participate in the schools' free or reduced meal programs with backpacks containing healthy nonperishable foods.
"Our mission is really simple," MacVane said. "We give food to elementary school age kids in Chapel Hill and Carrboro who go hungry when free school meals aren't available."Democratizing access
Farmer Foodshare, another nonprofit that focuses on fighting hunger locally, was founded in May of 2009 by Margaret Gifford, who is now executive director.
The organization raises funds and donations of fresh food for area nonprofits that serve the hungry and malnourished. Among its primary efforts is the donation station program at area farmers' markets, which makes it easy for customers to buy a little extra and donate it.
"It was important to me that we provide all members of our community with fresh food," Gifford said. "We democratize access to food. We make sure everyone gets access to good food and farmers get paid."
Gifford heard about TABLE through the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service. She asked MacVane's group whether it would be interested in accepting fresh food, thus starting an effective partnership between the two companies in the summer of 2010.
Their joint effort is funded by the Healthy Active Communities grant from The Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.Working together
TABLE provides the volunteers and interns, while Farmer Foodshare provides the fresh local food, Gifford said.
"What is unusual about this program is that it is taking two nonprofits and integrating them to act like one organization," Gifford said.
The collaboration benefits both partners. By working with TABLE, Farmer Foodshare is not only fulfilling its mission of helping feed those in need but is also creating future consumers of fresh food.
And by working with Farmer Foodshare, TABLE is able to include fresh local produce and dairy products in the food it sends home with children.
"We're not just giving out healthy non-perishables," McVane said. "We can get some fresh produce in there."
Another aspect of the collaboration takes the form of field trips that take children in afterschool programs to both a local farm and the Farmer's Market.
"The goal of all this is what I think is really exciting," MacVane said. "We really believe we can help the kids develop a lifelong love of farm fresh food."
MacVane said that love of fresh food will lead to good health, which is important to academic progress. She also said appreciating farm fresh food will create a relationship with local farmers and awareness about environmental issues.
"It helps them be better world citizens when you realize your food comes from somewhere and you want to protect and respect where your food comes from," MacVane said.
Volunteers, teachers and parents took a group of students to the Carrboro Farmer's Market on Oct. 19. Each child was given $5 to spend on fruits and vegetables.
George O'Neal from Lil' Farm in Timberlake said he was surprised to have kids buying vegetables.
"I asked one kid what he was going to do with the lettuce, and he said take it home to make a salad," O'Neal said.
After the kids bought vegetables, some had leftover money to spend, and they went for the hot dogs provided by Sam Suchoff of The Pig.
"I encouraged them to buy vegetables first," Suchoff said.
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield grant expires at the end of December.
Both partners hope to find community sponsorship to sustain the program.
"We're going to look for more funding from local businesses and community members so that it's sustainable," MacVane said.
Gifford said she wants Farm to TABLE to help communities solve their own problems.
"Local communities know how to feed themselves," Gifford said. "We are giving them to tools to do it."