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Delaware Valley College “Hope of the Harvest” Farm Program Stocks Bucks County Food Pantries

By Alex Vuocolo |

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Delaware Valley College is expanding both its on-campus farm and its ties to the community by growing food and partnering with hunger relief organizations to distribute healthy produce throughout the region and to Bucks County food pantries.

The Hope of the Harvest program, started in 2012 by students, received a $46,000 grant from The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) towards producing more food during the growing season and through the winter months by building “high tunnels,” or enclosed, unheated greenhouses.

The program represents an intersection of higher education, the nonprofit sector and strategic investment with each picking up a role in the process of funding, growing and distributing food to those who need it.

The farm produced 16,000 pounds of food in its first year. The organizers then sought donations and were able to raise $10,000 towards expanding the farm to 3-acres and splitting it between two campus locations. A total of 30,000 pounds of food were produced in 2013, according to Zachary Gihorski, community liaison for the program.

Another 2-3 acres of farmland could be added with the TRF grant, but the planning process has just begun and nothing is certain yet. Gihorski is hopeful that up to 50,000 pounds of food could be produced next year with the added acreage.

Funding Access

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TRF is a Community Financial Development Institution (CDFI) based in Philadelphia that facilitates investment in low-income communities. In most cases, this means investing in residential and commercial developments. But TRF also has a grant for projects that provide healthy food access. Past projects funded by this kind of grant include the Super Fresh in Northern Liberties and the Fare & Square nonprofit supermarket in the City of Chester.

“TRF is committed to investments that increase opportunities for people and places in need and this includes making healthy food accessible,” said Sara Vernon Sterman, TRF’s chief lending officer.

“Our support to the Hope for Harvest program exemplifies this commitment by increasing access to fresh produce for households that rely on food pantries in the Philadelphia region.”

Farm to Food Pantry 

Given the size of the mostly volunteer-run farm, distribution is handled by Philabundance and the Bucks County Opportunity Council (BCOC). The portion that goes to BCOC is distributed directly to Bucks County food pantries, but most of the food is acquired by Philabundance and taken back to its general warehouse before being shipped around the region. This amount and much more are sent back to Bucks County through existing programs.

Philabundance acquired 31.2 million pounds of food in 2012 alone, said Lisa Hodaei, deputy director of food acquisition. To put these numbers in perspective, the consensus among hunger relief organizations is that one pound of food equals one meal per person.

Hodaei said that college agriculture programs that are tied into hunger relief initiatives are on the rise. She added that the sector as a whole is “looking at more innovative ways to network.”

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