Volunteer Farm Prepares

Several factors are adding up to create a problem for food banks and the Volunteer Farm of Virginia has an idea to help out the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

Bob Blair, Volunteer Farm, says, "The growing food supply shortage may not be an emergency to every person, but it is a serious crisis for those with empty bellies. If you are food insecure or hungry, your neighbors can't imagine your fear and panic when you see empty shelves at your local food pantry-the place of last resort for the poor, unemployed, disabled, elderly, and children.

"This is a food shortage that may not affect the average person. Count your blessings if you are not in the category of one in eight in Virginia who may not have enough food in the coming weeks and months. They are the people who as a last resort accept food from one of the 430 food pantries or soup kitchens served in this region by the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which distributes canned goods along with fresh vegetables grown on the Volunteer Farm near Woodstock, central to the 25 counties and nine cities in the food network."

What is typically happening occurred recently in Crozet, where two churches operating food pantries experienced 30 percent increases in the number of people seeking food. One church simply cut back 30 percent of the amount of food each person received, while the other church fed everyone until they ran out of food, leaving 30 percent of the people with nothing.

Blair says, "In either case, a lot of people did not receive the amount of food they needed."

The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank reported serving 22 percent more people from last September through January of this year. The Food Bank found it necessary to provide an extra 400,000 pounds of food last year over 2006.

Blair explained that the food shortage has been caused by several factors occurring simultaneously to fracture the food distribution system now serving 16,500 per week.

He says, "The biggest cause for the increase in clients is the economy."

Coupled with this drastic growth rate are the facts that the U. S. Department of Agriculture has cut back by 70 percent the amount of surplus food, manufacturers have improved their production systems to eliminate waste that was previously donated to non-profits, and costs of operations for the non-profits have skyrocketed because of increased fuel costs and other factors. The problem is nationwide, affecting some 200 food banks in the country, and empty shelves are often being reported.

Officials of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and the Volunteer Farm met recently to plan for the Farm to grow as much as possible this year to help make up for the shortage of canned goods. Blair said the decision is to increase the acreage planted from 28 acres in 2007, to 40 acres in 2008, "if we can find the financial support to pay the increased costs of at least $8,500, which is not in our 2008 budget."

"Our plan calls for the planting of ten acres of potatoes in March, followed by the planting of 20 acres of spring and summer crops, followed by the replanting of the first ten acres in fall and winter crops," says Blair. "If the weather cooperates, we hope to produce more than 50 tons of vegetables."

Besides potatoes, the Volunteer Farm is planning to grow beets, butter beans, bush beans, cabbage, corn, cucumber, head lettuce, muskmelon, watermelon, okra, onion, peas, sweet potatoes, summer and winter squash, and turnip.

"We realize that we are extending the capabilities of the Volunteer Farm beyond what might be considered reasonable growth," says Blair. "But we are dedicated to providing our hungry neighbors with sufficient, nutritious food, especially for some 49,000 children. The obesity rate, because of cheap junk food, for these kids is twice the norm, exposing them to diabetes, heart problems and other health issues that will shorten their lives."

He comments, "This is our fifth year of growing, and since 2004, when we received our tax exempt status from IRS, we have roughly doubled in size each year. Last year we had 2,300 volunteers, so this year we will need more than 4,600 volunteers, mainly less than 18 years of age. We are increasing our efforts to recruit about 200 volunteers for the March planting of potatoes. If we do not have the additional funding and volunteers, our efforts to feed the hungry will be difficult."

Those wishing to help the Farm and support their hungry neighbors may volunteer online at at the link below this story. The Volunteer Farm also accepts online donations, or tax-exempt contributions may be mailed to the Volunteer Farm, 277 Crider Lane, Woodstock, VA 22664.

Blair says, "If you cannot donate or volunteer, please pray for our hungry neighbors."

All food grown by the Volunteer Farm is donated to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank which serves 25 counties and nine cities: Cities of Bedford, Buena Vista, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Lynchburg, Staunton, Waynesboro, and Winchester, plus the counties of Albemarle, Amherst, Appomattox, Augusta, Bath, Bedford, Buckingham, Campbell, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Fluvanna, Frederick, Greene, Highland, Loudoun, Madison, Nelson, Orange, Page, Rappahannock, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren.

The Volunteer Farm receives no financial assistance from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, United Way, or any local, state or federal governmental agency. Support comes from individual donations, churches, businesses, civic organizations and foundations.

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