In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the small town of Elgin, Texas, the Texas Center for Local Food (TCLF) teamed up with The Common Market Texas, and Elgin Independent School District (ISD) to distribute Farm Fresh Veggie Boxes to families in this town of 10,000 with a child poverty rate of 19%. With grant funds not yet available, the Texas Center for Local Food sold boxes to those who could afford them and used those funds to donate boxes to children with diet-related illness through the Family Health Center at Elgin ISD. Beginning on March 24, 2020 the 11-week program provided 1,665 boxes of Texas-grown fresh vegetables to 486 families. With an outpouring of compassion for community, over two dozen volunteers joined in and many folks who purchased boxes delivered them to neighbors in need. One buyer bought an extra box each week for their dog sitter who was now out of work. Other groups of neighbors took turns buying a box for a family on their block.
Staff of Elgin ISD’s ACE (Texas Afterschool Centers of Education; Texas Education Agency) and USDA-funded Farm-to-School program expanded the Veggie Box program to engage families in home cooking of these fresh Texas veggies. Students and their families cooked meals together each week and shared their marvelous creations on the Elgin ISD ACE Facebook page. Peer-to-peer learning and engagement was a big hit. Elgin ISD distributed 485 boxes to families in just 3 weeks. https://www.facebook.com/ELGINISDACE
In the summer of 2020, inspired in part by the Elgin ISD program, the Austin Independent School District kicked off its partnership with The Common Market Texas. Funded by the Susan and Michael Dell Foundation, the project delivered over 9,000 boxes of Farm Fresh boxes to Austin students and their families. “With school closures, we leaned on our mission to support our school communities during these difficult months,” said Margaret Smith, Director at The Common Market Texas. “We are thrilled to partner with Austin ISD through our Farm Fresh Box program to increase healthy food access for children and families so they are ready to learn and grow. These farm to school partnership support Texas farmers, providing an important outlet during a time of great disruption in the supply chain.”
In October, 2020 the Texas Center for Local Food received funding from the St. David’s Foundation to restart the Farm Fresh Veggie Box program with Elgin ISD’s ACE and Farm-to-School programs. “Elgin families are deeply engaged in cooking together; students and adults love the freshness of these Texas-grown vegetables. We are thrilled to be part of this effective collaboration,” said Caroline Johnston, Director of Elgin ISD’s ACE program and a member of the Farm-to-School team.
“Our collaborative, community response to this pandemic demonstrates the deep commitment of Austin ISD and Elgin ISD to Farm-to-School in Texas. Change begins with youth and families. These engaging programs are exactly what we need to be doing to improve students’ health, and in turn increase their ability to learn while expanding economic opportunities for our Texas farms. It’s a win-win-win.” said Sue Beckwith, Executive Director of the Texas Center for Local Food.
The Common Market Texas is a nonprofit aggregator and distributor of local farm foods. Their mission is to connect the good food from sustainable family farms to communities. For over 12 years, The Common Market has worked with farmers and ranchers across the country to connect them to new markets including schools, hospitals, universities, and other community institutions and are proud to serve Texas farmers and communities since 2018. Website: www.thecommonmarket.org
The Texas Center for Local Food is a non-profit organization providing education, research, and technical assistance to create regional food systems in Texas that support prosperous family farms, healthy Texans and vibrant rural economies. TexasLocalFood.org