Fresh food is central to the Chewonki experience – students and campers help our farm team generate nearly 1/3 of the meat and produce needed for the 78,000 meals we serve in a typical year. Planning and preparation for this summer season began months in advance – far before the Covid-19 pandemic swept the United States in March. When campus closed and in-person summer programs were canceled, we had a tremendous challenge on our hands: what to do with all this food?
So far this summer, Chewonki has donated $10,225 worth of food to local hunger relief organizations and our kitchen team has spent over 200 hours processing value-added products like granola, bread, and soup for local food pantries and soup kitchens.
“When the crisis began, we reached out to our local hunger relief organizations asking “what do you need? How can we be helpful?” says assistant farm manager Lisa Beneman. It turned out that local organizations needed more than just food. They needed help processing the large amount of bulk products they were receiving into ready-to-eat meals. They were also finding themselves with large quantities of unpopular ingredients, like canned peaches and dried beans, that clients did not know how to cook or have the ability to prepare.
In addition to hundreds of prepared meals, Chewonki has also donated over 400 gallons of milk, 7,398 eggs, 272 loaves of bread, 320 pounds of granola, and an incredible amount of produce, including greens, carrots, onions, broccoli, and tomatoes all grown on Chewonki Neck.
“We started accepting items and processing them into ready-to-eat meals and desserts, often with the addition of produce from Salt Marsh Farm,” says kitchen manager Bill Edgerton. Huge batches of sweet and sour pork, baked beans, peach cobbler, and chili have been going out weekly to the Bath Food Bank, the St. Phillips Help Yourself Shelf in Wiscasset and Midcoast Hunger Prevention in Brunswick.
“Thanks to the collaboration between Mid-Coast Hunger Prevention and the Chewonki Foundation, People Plus has been able to distribute approximately 45 meals a week to the seniors in our community this summer,” writes Sarah Deck, People Plus office coordinator. “This has allowed our community members to have a night off of cooking at least once a week and helped to keep people socially distant by reducing the number of times our seniors need to travel out for food.”
Chewonki is grateful to be able to utilize the talent and resources of our kitchen staff and farm crew to support our neighbors during this challenging time. In addition to the incredible generosity of the Chewonki donor community that makes this possible, in May, the United Way of Midcoast Maine awarded Chewonki a $5,000 grant to support our work with local food banks.
“The quality of the food is really good,” says cook Russell Shumaker. “For example, we recently got a large donation of smoked cheddar from Pineland Farms in Gloucester, that we made into a delicious batch of mac and cheese. There was also a morning where we dropped off dozens of individually wrapped breakfast sandwiches made with Chewonki farm eggs and homemade english muffins.“
“People get excited when the Chewonki van arrives at the food bank,” says Shumaker, “you can hear them inside saying ‘Chewonki is here! Chewonki is here!” The bread is particularly popular and people have started calling it “Chewonki toast,” sweetly reminiscent of the on-campus tradition among students.
“I was disappointed when I learned that we wouldn’t be cooking for campers this summer,” says Shumaker, “because a big part of cooking for me is seeing how people react to the food.” But Shumaker, along with the rest of our kitchen and farm team, are incredibly proud of the impact we’ve made on food security in our local community. “It feels good to give back,” he says.
Our farm & food systems teams will continue producing food for local food banks until students return to campus in September. We are grateful to all the organizations that helped make sure the food we produced this summer made it to those who needed it most.