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How to network with food assistance organization – Wholesaling

09 May 2022, by Admin in Partnerships
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How to network with food assistance organization – Wholesaling with Farm to Community at Harvest Against Hunger

Many farmers want to get involved in food assistance programming in their communities, whether to build wholesaling relationships, assist in community-building projects, or some combination of the two. However, due to the busy and often understaffed nature of food assistance, networking can prove to be difficult and sometimes confusing, especially considering the complex ladder of systems that exist in different communities. This guide will give tips for understanding how these systems work, with a focus on PNW programs.

Knowing where to reach out is the first step. On a national level, a good start is to check out the Feeding America map on their website, which catalogues different food programs all over the country (Harvest Against Hunger included!). From there, reaching out to local senior centers, Boys & Girls clubs, and shelters can help connect you to individual programs, as well as get information about which food banks/pantries people work with in your area. 

Many counties have specific food bank coalitions that work together to manage local food distribution, and these organizations often do bulk purchasing themselves. This can be a good place to network, as well as find out which places have funds to purchase local food and would be open to pursuing wholesale relationships. County extension offices also often have a lot of this information. Locally, there are a number of organizations that work with food banks/pantries and would be a good networking point, including Seattle Food CommitteeMeals Partnership CoalitionSound Generations, and South King County Food Coalition

When communicating with food pantries and meal programs themselves, it is important to communicate with the right people. A lot of staff at these organizations are volunteers, and might not have the information/knowledge necessary to answer the questions you have. For food pantries, a lead is your best bet, although terminology can vary and include names such as manager, coordinator, or inventory/warehouse lead. At meal programs specifically, either the chef/kitchen lead or operations staff are usually the person you are looking for. 

Outside of a business relationship, there are other things you can do when wanting to get involved with food assistance. Gleaning programs, in which volunteers come directly to your farm to collect food to donate, can be a great alternative for post-harvest food that might otherwise be composted or not collected. The Association of Gleaning Organizations and the National Gleaning Project have a lot of information on projects in your area, and you can also reach out the various connections mentioned previously to find out if individual food assistance organizations have their own programs.