Foodlink’s apple-slicing line adds a second shift

Responding to the growing demand for healthy, ready-to-eat snack foods, Foodlink’s Value-Added Processing Center has added a second shift to ramp up its apple-slicing operations. 

On Oct. 9, the Foodlink Community Kitchen launched a second shift, which allows its automated apple-slicing line to now operate from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (including time spent setting up the equipment, staff breaks, and clean up). The increased activity will allow Foodlink staff to produce — on average — 100 cases of sliced apples per day. There are typically 4-5 slices per 2.5-oz bag, and 100 bags per case. 

Foodlink began slicing apples in 2012, soon after a study was published that indicated children were much more likely to eat apples if they were pre-sliced. Foodlink sliced apples manually for four years in its former kitchen on Joseph Avenue, before moving into its new space in 2017. The expansion allowed Foodlink to invest in an automated line. Today, it is an official New York Grown & Certified facility, and Foodlink purchases apples exclusively from local farms in western New York, predominantly Wayne County — one of the highest apple-producing counties in the nation.

Foodlink slices its branded apples, but also recent secured a contract for a private label (Zee Zee’s) from National Food Group (NFG), a company that provides apple products to schools through USDA entitlements. 

Red Nose Day Fund awards grants to entire Feeding America network

The Red Nose Day fund announced its latest cycle of grant recipients this month, which included a $10,000 award to Foodlink. 

Foodlink has received steady support from Red Nose Day in recent years, primarily to help purchase much-needed supplies for the Foodlink Community Kitchen, which serves more than 1 million meals annually to at-risk children in Rochester. 

This year, Red Nose Day raised sufficient funds to support member grants for 100 percent of the Feeding America network of member food banks, which means 200 food banks were awarded $10,000 each.

Last year’s grant award enabled Foodlink to purchase numerous supplies to help us continue to provide optimal service to our partner meal sites and the students they serve. Supplies included: pans, warming pellets, steamers, a hand truck, cutting boards and coolers. We also purchased milk that we inserted into “Blizzard Bags,” supplementary meals that sites could already have on site in case a weather emergency prevented our fleet from delivering meals. 

Foodlink’s Curbside Market awarded significant grant by the USDA

A significant grant from the United States Department of Agriculture will allow for the continued growth and expansion of the Curbside Market – Foodlink’s mobile farmers market that visits underserved communities throughout the Rochester region.

The USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) announced funding in late September for 44 projects totaling more than $13.4 million. Foodlink’s project, titled “Farms to Families: Promoting local foods and healthy futures through mobile markets,” was awarded $481,090 for a three-year period – one of the largest programmatic grants received in Foodlink’s 40-year history. Foodlink applied for an LFPP grant with the goal of becoming the nation’s first mobile vendor for the USDA’s Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program, which supports low-income mothers and young children who are found to be at nutritional risk.

SCHEDULE: Curbside Market fall routes

USDA: Full list of LFPP project winners

“We’re grateful that the USDA recognized our Curbside Market as an upstream solution to not only building healthier communities, but as a means to support our local agricultural economy, as well,” said Foodlink President & CEO Julia Tedesco. “Foodlink strives to make the healthy choice the easy choice for those whom we serve, and through this generous grant, we’ll be able to strengthen Curbside’s impact and open up new markets for local farmers.”

Currently, the Curbside Market predominantly sells fresh produce at affordable prices in low-income communities where access to healthy food is limited. As a WIC vendor, the Curbside Market eventually would be able to sell more types of products, and reach more young families in need of healthy, local foods.

“Since we launched five years ago, the Curbside Market has effectively attracted and incentivized customers who use SNAP benefits,” said Mitch Gruber, Foodlink’s Chief Programs Officer. “With WIC, we see a vital opportunity for growth, and through the USDA’s support, Foodlink can begin to offer more healthy food retail options for young mothers and children in our communities.”

The Curbside Market operates year-round, stopping at sites such as federally qualified health centers, low-income housing facilities, and senior and rec centers throughout Rochester and six surrounding counties. The market made more than 32,000 transactions in 2017, with total sales exceeding $216,000, and is on pace to surpass both marks this year. 

“We are proud that we are able to offer a wide variety of healthy — and local — products and produce to our customers, said Florence Clemmons, Foodlink’s Curbside Market Manager. “This grant will be a blessing to our loyal shoppers and we are thrilled to now have the opportunity to diversify our product offering.”

Foodlink will direct funds toward staffing costs associated with the planned expansion, as well as a new vehicle capable of handling and displaying more products.

A day to celebrate ‘Moving Up’ at Foodlink

The inaugural class members of the Foodlink Career Fellowship had more than the weekend to look forward to, as they walked into Foodlink on Friday. 

The inaugural class of Fellows celebrated the completion of the first quarter of their yearlong training at Foodlink. A small tasting event was organized Oct. 5 to celebrate their accomplishments, and show gratitude to the community partners and funders who made this program possible. 

PHOTO ALBUM: Check out more images from the event on our Facebook page

The Foodlink Career Fellowship is Foodlink’s newest workforce development venture — a yearlong culinary training program in the Foodlink Community Kitchen. Foodlink recruits individuals who have had barriers to employment — but a passion for food — into the program with the ultimate goal of training them for a middle-skills job in the regional food industry. The first class began their journey in July, thanks to the generous funding from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, William and Sheila Konar Foundation, and ESL Charitable Foundation. 

Fellows spent the first three months of the program learning the skills needed to work in a kitchen, both with hands-on experience in Foodlink’s Community Kitchen and Value-Added Processing Center, and through a renowned online training program, Rouxbe. Their training will continue for the next nine months, which includes a 3-month externship at Wegmans before graduation in June 2019. 

At Friday’s event, the Fellows prepared several delicious dishes, including:

  • Exploding Eggplant
  • Lil Spice Empanadas
  • Cajun Salmon Bites
  • South Meets East
  • Latinas Mofongo Bites

In a brief ceremony, each Fellow received a new knife set, and their first paycheck from Foodlink. 

 

Garden Party celebrates 2018 growing season, first steps of Lexington Ave. farm’s beautification, expansion

The Lexington Avenue Community Farm, the largest urban agriculture site in Rochester, celebrated the growing season and its recent landscaping improvements Thursday during its annual Garden Party with local residents.

MORE PHOTOS: Facebook album

The farm, in operation since 2012, serves a dual purpose on 1.3 acres of land in northwest Rochester. Half of the site allows neighborhood residents – including dozens of refugees – to grow a wide variety of food for their families. The other half of the farm allows Foodlink to grow fresh produce for multiple programs, such as the Curbside Marker and Community Kitchen.

Each fall, Foodlink celebrates the annual harvest – more than 6,000 pounds, typically – with a party for gardeners, volunteers, staff and other supporters. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield partnered with Foodlink to provide support for this year’s party, when Foodlink also showcased some of the improvements it has made to the property that surrounds the farm.

“Good nutrition and activities like playing outside are important keys to good health,” said Jim Redmond, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s vice-president of Communications and Community Investments. “Too many people in our communities don’t have access to affordable fruits and vegetables and too many kids don’t have a safe place to play outside.” 

Foodlink’s recent beautification and expansion efforts include transforming the vacant area surrounding the farm – a makeshift parking lot – into a more welcoming community space with increased play opportunities for children. More pronounced signage, a gravel pathway, trees, new landscaping and a front lawn now greet community members who approach the farm. Children will have access to a nature play space and “play library.” On Thursday, PlayROCs – a Healthi Kids initiative connected to Common Ground Health – was on hand to provide more games and activities for local children.

“Foodlink wants the Lexington Avenue Community Farm to be a welcoming space that serves not only our devoted gardeners, but the entire neighborhood,” said Nathaniel Mich, Foodlink’s Edible Education & Urban Farming Specialist. “We’re hoping this site continues to grow into a community space of which gardeners and neighbors can be proud.”

Many of the 60 refugee families who rent raised beds at the farm attended the party. The food was prepared by the Foodlink Community Kitchen, with ingredients harvested from the garden earlier in the week, such as eggplant, cucumber and basil.

The farm received a Community Health grant from Excellus in 2017, and additional support through a grant from the Greater Rochester Health Foundation, donations raised by Midtown Athletic Club, and public support through an online giving campaign.

A $25,000 “Community Growers” grant award announced last month by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, will pave the way for Foodlink’s next round of improvements, which include increased nutrition education workshop opportunities, and infrastructure improvements that will allow for increased production at the farm.

Foodlink opposes DHS’s proposed rule that would penalize legal immigrants for using public assistance programs

On Thursday evening, Foodlink’s Mitch Gruber publicly read a brief statement on behalf of Foodlink in response to a disconcerting proposal from the Trump administration that would affect immigrant families, and increase food insecurity in our community and nationwide. The new proposal by the Department of Homeland Security would threaten to deny legal immigrants green cards if they benefited from public assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Foodlink’s official statement is below:

“In solidarity with Feeding America, and other organizations such as the Food Research & Action Center, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Foodlink strongly opposes the DHS’s recent proposed changes to immigration policy, and urges the Administration to rescind it. In our ongoing efforts to end hunger and build healthier communities, this is just another barrier that unnecessarily makes people choose between putting food on the table, and gaining lawful residency or citizenship. This is a cruel policy, and would be implemented under the misguided view that immigrants do not contribute to our local, state and national economy. This policy would sow fear and uncertainty among immigrant communities, and certainly dissuade many from applying for needed health coverage and housing assistance, as well.

“Federal nutrition programs were designed by Congress to be there for citizens and legal immigrants during difficult times, and eligibility for those programs reflects that intent. Tying their participation to their ability to reside lawfully in this country would roll back this longstanding principle and  undercut our efforts to address food insecurity and poverty in our communities.”

COO Terra Keller among RBJ’s 2018 Forty Under 40 honorees

The Rochester Business Journal has selected Foodlink Chief Operating Officer Terra Keller as a 2018 Forty Under 40 honoree.

Forty Under 40 recognizes 40 men and women, under the age of 40, who have achieved professional success and have also made significant civic contributions to the community. A panel of judges consisting of previous winners from various professions select the Forty Under 40 honorees. In selecting the winners, judges look for candidates who excel both professionally and at a board level in the community.

RBJ: See the full list of winners

Keller, who has been with Foodlink since 2009, has served as Chief Operating Officer since January of 2017. She is responsible for leading and managing all aspects of Foodlink’s 100,000-square-foot distribution center, 30,000-square-foot community kitchen and fleet of 15 vehicles, and for ensuring the safe distribution of more than 18 million pounds of food and 1 million healthy meals each year.

Keller has served numerous roles during her tenure, and has overseen two of the largest projects in Foodlink history. She served as project manager for Foodlink’s relocation to Mt. Read Boulevard in 2011, and the completion of the Foodlink Community Kitchen in 2016 – a $4.9 million project that included 3 years of planning and fundraising and 7 months of construction.

“Terra has worn too many Foodlink hats to count and has risen to every single challenge with which she is presented – without fail,” said Julia Tedesco, Foodlink President & CEO. “Terra does whatever needs to be done, and she does so out of deep commitment, passion and loyalty to the Foodlink mission.”

Tedesco and her colleagues were also pleased to see board member Matthew Squires, CEO of Manning Squires Hennig, named to the Forty Under 40 list, as well.

“This year’s Forty Under 40 honorees are building successful careers while also finding the time to volunteer and give back to our community in a meaningful way,” said Suzanne Fischer-Huettner, publisher of the Rochester Business Journal. “All share a commitment to making Rochester a better place to live. We at the Rochester Business Journal applaud them for all they do and look forward to their future accomplishments.”

The Forty Under 40 awards will be presented at a luncheon Nov. 14 at noon at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, 123 East Main Street in Rochester. Winners will be profiled in a magazine that will be inserted into the November 16 issue of the Rochester Business Journal and will be available online at www.rbj.net. The event hashtag is #RBJEvents. For more information about sponsorships and tickets for the Rochester Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 awards, visit www.rbj.net or call 585-363-7271.

Study shows high adult obesity rates in Foodlink’s 10-county service area

A new report from the NYS Department of Health shows that 6 of the top 15 counties with the highest prevalence of adult obesity fall within Foodlink’s 10-county service area. 

The counties of Seneca (44.8), Genesee (38.7), Wyoming (38.7), Livingston (37.5), Wayne (37.4) and Allegany (35.5) all had adult obesity rates north of 35%. Seneca County’s 44.8% rate was the highest in the state — by a wide margin. The next highest counties on the list were Washington (40.2%) and Tioga (40.1%).

The state Department of Health advises that: “Obesity is a significant risk factor for many chronic diseases and conditions including type 2 diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.”

Overall, one quarter (25%) of adults in New York State are considered obese, according to the study.

Rates for the other four counties in Foodlink’s service area were: Ontario (34.3%), Orleans (34.2%), Monroe (32.2%), and Yates (31.7%).

Foodlink marks Hunger Action Month, celebrates 40 years of ‘social innovation’

 

Foodlink on Thursday recognized its rich, 40-year history, while also pledging to continue its tradition of agility and innovation in order to address the crisis of hunger, food insecurity and poverty throughout the Finger Lakes region.

Foodlink staff and several elected officials gathered to mark Hunger Action Day – a nationwide awareness campaign within “Hunger Action Month,” led by the Feeding America network of food banks. In Foodlink’s 10-county service area, nearly 150,000 people are considered food insecure, meaning their household lacks access to enough food for everyone to live a healthy life. Foodlink also used the platform to launch its 40th year, which includes an anniversary logo, and a new strategic plan and vision for the years ahead. 

“It made sense for us to launch our 40th year during September, a time of year nationwide to heighten our awareness about hunger, and the fact that too many of our neighbors – including close to 50,000 children – are food insecure,” said Julia Tedesco, Foodlink President & CEO. “We are proud of our history of feeding people in the most innovative ways, and will take time this year to reflect on the past. More importantly, however, we will always look ahead to harness the power of food to find solutions for the challenges that remain.”

 

Foodlink’s official 40th anniversary is Dec. 19, 2018, which Foodlink staff members refer to as “Muffin Day.” On that date in 1978, Foodlink founder Tom Ferraro rescued a busload of English muffins to redistribute to those in need. Ferraro passed away in 2014, but his legacy remains.

While Foodlink recognizes its long history of redistributing food as one of the first food banks in the nation, Ferraro and others also realized early on that simply feeding people would not end hunger. If done correctly, a food bank’s responsibility is to not only “feed the need,” but “shorten the line,” which is why Foodlink has long practiced social innovation through the launch of numerous programs that target the root causes of hunger, such as food access, food literacy and under-employment.

“Tom Ferraro was a mentor for many of us at Foodlink, and certainly for me personally,” said Mitch Gruber, a member of Rochester City Council and Foodlink’s Chief Programs Officer. “While he often gets credit for his work establishing Foodlink as part of a statewide and national network of emergency food providers, it was the risks he took in making food banks an engine of social and economic development that made him so visionary, and one of Rochester’s great social entrepreneurs.”

Several elected officials helped Foodlink raise awareness and celebrate its 40th year. State Senators Rich Funke and Joe Robach jointly presented a proclamation, as did Assemblymember Harry Bronson. Sandra Simon, representing the City of Rochester as its Director of Special Projects & Education Initiatives, also issued a proclamation that recognized Foodlink’s 40 years of service to the community and declared Sept. 13, 2018 as “Foodlink Day.”

 


Cooks’ World silent auction raises $5,000+ for Foodlink

Foodlink and Cooks’ World have different missions, but both understand the importance of food, and how food has the power to bring us together. 

Foodlink and Cooks’ World also have something else in common. We’re both turning 40!

This summer, the long-time Brighton business came up with an idea that allowed both organizations to celebrate 40 years of serving the community. Owner Chis Wiedemer, who’s brother, George, serves on Foodlink’s board, proposed a 40-day silent auction, with the total sales going straight to Foodlink. 

The event began in late July, and lasted through Sept. 7, when all items — which were generously donated by many vendors — were closed for bidding. On Sept. 9, Cooks’ World hosted an open house to celebrate 40 years and announce the results from the auction. 

To our surprise, $5,115.78 was donated to Foodlink! Many Foodlink staffers attended the celebration, which also featured a Cooking Matters workshop, and an appearance by the Curbside Market. 

We are forever grateful to Chris and his entire staff for their generosity. Thank you for you support, and happy 40th to a great community partner!