By Cheney Gardner
Carrboro Commons Co-Editor
It’s a cool September morning at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, and Patrick Mateer is busy looking through three boxes of fresh eggplants.
Mateer is the volunteer lead coordinator at the market for Farmer Foodshare, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting food insecurity in North Carolina.
Margaret Gifford, the founder and executive director of Farmer Foodshare, said, “We support limited-resource farmers and increase access to fresh, healthy food for agencies who give it to the people who need it.”
The eggplants from this morning are going to be brought to Abbey Court, an affordable housing complex in Carrboro, said Mateer.
But because this is such a large donation, the residents of Abbey Court will not be able to use all of the eggplants while they are fresh. Instead some will have to stored for later, he said.
But he said this won’t be the case for much longer.
On Aug. 30, Farmer Foodshare received a $450,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina.
With this grant, the organization will be able to invest in infrastructure to improve communication and transportation, among other things, Mateer said.
“If we have a ton of eggplant like this week, we can call the Chapel Hill station and they can take half of it and distribute it,” he said.
The grant comes only three years after Gifford started Farmer Foodshare at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.
“It started with myself and my 3-year-old daughter walking around with a box at the end and picking up what farmers couldn’t sell,” Gifford said. “I wanted to make sure the food that the farmers had spent so much time and love growing wouldn’t go to waste and would go to people who would enjoy it.”
Since then, Farmer Foodshare has expanded to include donation stations at 13 Triangle-area markets and programs like POP Food Markets, where hunger-relief groups are able to purchase food directly from farmers at a discount, and FreshKids!, which provides a weekly supply of locally grown food to agencies that serve children at risk for hunger, said Gifford.
“In first three years of growth, it’s been very fast,” Gifford said. “We’ve gotten a lot of markets, a lot of food and a lot of stakeholders. Now what I’d like to see is for us to create a sound foundation for a social enterprise.”
Gifford said the grant will be use to create basic infrastructure, like office space, legal and accounting services, staff training and development, improved communication and new materials.
“People don’t think of non-profits as businesses, but they are,” she said, “I remember thinking ‘Wow, you need lawyers? You need an accountant?’ They are the same things you need in a regular business.”
The funding will be distributed over a three-year period. The first year will be devoted towards creating sound business practices and analyzing the impact of Farmer Foodshare in the community, said Gifford.
The last two years will be devoted to expansion.
“We can begin to reach out beyond the Triangle and work with other counties on the issues of hunger and malnutrition and ways communities can address them,” said Gifford.
At the local level, the grant will allow Farmer Foodshare to continue to impact the community, said Sarah Blacklin, market manager at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market and a board member of Farmer Foodshare.
“I see it adding permanence to our relationship and funding their innovation and development of new projects,” she said.
Gifford said that although this is a huge mind shift for the organization, she doesn’t think it will change the core mission.
“I think they funded us to do what we were doing but do it better.”