By Nancy Perry, Mainers Feeding Mainers Program Manager
When an unexpected delivery of 44,000 pounds of apples (that accounts for roughly 133,000 apples!) arrived at Good Shepherd Food Bank’s warehouse in Auburn last November, a challenge presented itself. The apples, donated by Charleston Correctional Facility, were best suited for cooking. In addition, the Food Bank already purchased a large quantity of apples from its farm partners. It was easy to assume the fate of these apples would be food for the pig farms. However, once again, the spirit of Maine people and the Food Bank’s commitment to addressing hunger shined bright.
I called Joel and Melissa Gilbert, owners of Berry Fruit Farm in Livermore, a Mainers Feeding Mainers farm partner. The year prior they made a small batch of applesauce for the Food Bank using a community kitchen. A few months before this unexpected apple delivery, Joel and Melissa finished a build-out of their own commercial kitchen. After receiving my call, Joel came to the warehouse and looked at the condition of the apples. Without the slightest hesitation, Joel said he could turn these thousands of apples into sauce.
The Food Bank stored the apples at the warehouse and Joel dropped by once a week—sometimes twice a week—to pick up the prospective applesauce. By the end of January, 44,000 pounds of apples became 40,000 pounds of packaged and labeled applesauce. As it turned out, calling on Berry Fruit Farm for the production of applesauce was not only a matter of feeding food insecure Mainers. The farming industry experiences lulls and this is one of those cases where Joel and Melissa would have faced a tough offseason without this extra income. They told me that they did not know how they would have made it through the winter without the applesauce order.
“It was because of Mainers Feeding Mainers that we were able to keep our employees employed and pay the bills through the long Maine winter months making applesauce,” shares Joel. “We thank Good Shepherd Food Bank from the bottom of our hearts!”
Joel and Melissa have a farm stand where they sell products at market value, but they also feel like they have an obligation to help folks who are less fortunate. They seek to assist Mainers who find themselves in a place where they need a little help, because they have experienced such situations in their own lives. As a result, they decided that this commitment to food insecure Mainers would be part of their farm’s mission. And true to their commitment: they have stepped up to the plate on numerous occasions for the Food Bank.
Generous donations of this size and strong partnerships like the one with Berry Fruit Farm help the Food Bank deliver nutritious food to Maine’s most vulnerable residents. In addition, Mainers Feeding Mainers provides needed income to farms so they too can make ends meet. It is rewarding to address food insecurity in Maine and also partner with hardworking farmers who share the Food Bank’s commitment to end hunger.
The Food Bank has distributed roughly 50 percent of the applesauce thus far and the remainder will be distributed prior to this year’s apple harvest.