Fresh food basket program expanding in 2013
Valerie Loshaw empties her food basket into plastic containers to take home to her family of four on Jan. 17. The basket costs $20 and lasts about two weeks. She also picks up baskets for her mother and mother-in-law.
Photo by Jennifer Bowman
February 6, 2013
MUSKOKA - The District of Muskoka is looking to expand its food basket program to provide fresh, affordable food to area families.
Heather Elliott, community engagement co-ordinator for the District of Muskoka, said with the rising cost of groceries, more people are depending on the food baskets year round.
They usually see a large increase in numbers from February to May, and then a decrease in the summer. “But that (decrease) didn’t happen last year and I think it’s because produce didn’t come down much,” she said.
In January, there were about 160 food baskets filled with fruits, vegetables, and occasionally some non-perishable items. The baskets come in two sizes at $20 and $25, and are ordered once a month.
Carol White, a Gravenhurst resident, began participating in the food basket program about a year and a half ago after her doctor put her on a vegan diet.
After trying to cook quick, easy foods like pasta and a can of pasta sauce, she realized she needed to look for healthier options and began buying fresh produce.
Looking over the two baskets she splits with her parents, daughter and son-in-law, she said the bananas, carrots, celery, and an assortment of other fresh foods would last her and her husband about two weeks, the bag of potatoes about a month.
It would cost an awful lot on the grocery bill, she said.
Sue Biehn-Smith, who came up with the idea after seeing a similar program in Toronto and Barrie, estimates the value of the $25 basket is between $40 and $65.
Everything’s run by volunteers so no money is spent on work between the food terminal and the recipient, she said.
The food is purchased at the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto by Northern Produce, a local fruit and vegetable supplier in Bracebridge. The program works with local farmers to introduce those receiving the baskets to as much local food as possible.
In December the baskets included a large Mason jar of butternut squash soup by Savour Muskoka and a recipe book. In January among the fruit and vegetables there was also some fresh Beat the Wheat pasta.
Valerie Lowshaw began buying a food basket for her family of four in September because it was fresh and cheaper than buying their groceries at Walmart.
She said the basket lasts about two weeks and has introduced them to new foods. This month Lowshaw will try cooking parsnips for the first time, using the recipe lying on top of the basket.
It’s a surprise, like Christmas, Lowshaw said, you never know what you’re getting each month.
The program began as an idea to provide affordable food to women who had just given birth and had to provide food for their families, but the concept expanded to cater to all Muskokans and now includes everyone from cottagers to those on Ontario Works.
Each month on the day the food baskets arrive, Bracebridge residents gather with Biehn-Smith at the community kitchen in the basement of the United Church to cook several recipes made with food from the food basket. The program is intended to expand people’s abilities and skills in the kitchen using only basic foods. They’ve cooked everything from African to Asian food. In January they made quiche and vegetable soup.
“Put a little bit of cumin or coriander into some potatoes or lentils, and boom, you have a tasty dish,” Biehn-Smith said.
The food basket program has grown from four locations in 2010 to 13 locations at the beginning of 2013. It provides food for all ages, with 45 per cent feeding children, 47 per cent adults, and eight per cent seniors.
Elliott is hoping to increase the number of local farmers involved in growing the produce this year as well as the number of people buying the baskets.
“The more people that buy the baskets, the better the basket is because it creates buying power,” Elliott said.
For anyone interested in joining or volunteering with the Fresh Food Basket program, call Elliott at 705-645-2412, ext. 333.
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