Canstruction Rochester takes over Tower280

Canstruction Rochester’s 10th annual design-build competition officially begins this weekend.

Six local teams will construct giant sculptures made entirely out of canned food with a “Fantasy & Fairy Tales” theme on Saturday, May 20 in the lobby of Tower280 at Midtown (280 E. Broad Street). The exhibit will go on public display starting Sunday.

Presented by Buckingham Properties, Canstruction Rochester benefits our regional food bank, Foodlink, and provides a fun way for local companies, architects, engineers, and students to team build. Since its inception in 2006, the competition has donated more 300,000 pounds of food for local families.

The sculptures will remain up for public viewing through June 2. Viewing the sculptures is free, but guests are encouraged to bring a can of food to donate.

A panel of local judges reviews the sculptures and will present awards in several categories.

Fans of Canstruction Rochester on Facebook can vote for a People’s Choice Award. Winners then go on to compete internationally. For additional event information and photos of past competitions, please visit www.canstructionrochester.com.

Another successful Day of Caring at Foodlink!

Foodlink was once again a host site for the United Way’s annual “Day of Caring” event, a community-wide volunteering effort. 

Foodlink is quite accustomed to handling hundreds of volunteers each week, but that’s not to say organizing more than 100 of them on a single day is a breeze. Volunteers were assigned to our three typical volunteer opportunities — the two food sorting stations and our BackPack Program assembly line. But other volunteers also got their hands dirty by helping us paint and get our urban garden ready ready for the growing season. 

At the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm, volunteers from Paychex, Xerox and Kodak planted veggies (cucumbers, eggplant, sweet potato and more) in our hoop house, and helped set up our drip irrigation system. 

Thank you to those companies, and the others who helped out in our distribution center. They included: Kodak Alaris, Teksystems, M&T Bank, Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services, Inc., Neilseon, Monroe Co. DHS, Nielson and Harter Secrest. 

Hope to see you soon!

PHOTO ALBUM: View photos from the event on our Facebook page.

 

NY Beef Council urges farmers to give back

This May, the New York Beef Council is leading beef industry awareness month with the return of the “Farm to Food Bank” initiative to combat hunger.

The New York Beef Council, in partnership with Empire Livestock Marketing, Finger Lakes Livestock Exchange, Inc., Hosking Sales, Northern NY Farmer’s Marketing Coop, Inc. and NY Beef Producers Association, are encouraging beef and dairy farmers to donate cattle sale proceeds for the sole purchase of beef to the regional food banks that serve all 62 counties in New York State.

From April 24 through May 31, auction markets throughout the state will assist NYBC in promoting the Farm to Food Bank Initiative. Beef and dairy farmers will have two levels of donations from which to choose, or can designate their own dollar contribution. A single $50 donation can provide meals for 150 people. Each $50 donation will allow the food banks to purchase more than 300 pounds of beef. The donations generated will help ensure more protein will reach families and individuals in need.

In addition to collecting donations, the New York Beef Council will be spreading the message of beef’s role in a healthy diet by providing trainings for food bank staff on how to economically utilize and prepare beef donations. Beef is a high-value protein and often underutilized by low-income families, despite its nutrient-dense value.

Peter Ricardo, Product Donations Manager for the Food Bank of CNY, said: “We continue to be humbled and impressed by the generosity and compassion in our community. We thank you on behalf of the many families and individuals that have a need for our services.”

Find out more at www.nybeef.org. 

Study: Food insecurity rate remains flat in Rochester region

 

While there are slightly less food insecure people in the Rochester area, those who struggle to put food on the table are finding it less affordable to feed themselves and their families, according to a report released Thursday.

Foodlink announced the release of Map the Meal Gap 2017, the latest report by Feeding America® on food insecurity and the cost of food at both the county and congressional district level.

The overall food insecurity rate in Foodlink’s 10-county service area dipped slightly from 12.5 to 12.4 percent in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. Child food insecurity showed marked improvement by decreasing from 20.9 to 19.4 percent. The study also finds, however, that people currently facing hunger are likely falling further behind as they continue to struggle to buy enough food to meet their needs. Food-insecure individuals in the Rochester area now face a food budget shortfall of $514.25 per person each year, up from $492.92 last year.

MORE: Check out the interactive map

READ: Feeding America explains the annual study

Foodlink serves the counties of Allegany, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates. Food insecurity ranged from a low of 10 percent of the population in Ontario County up to 13.2 percent in Monroe County. Overall, 156,530 people, including 52,780 children, are considered food insecure in Foodlink’s 10-county service area. The national food insecurity rate is 13.4 percent.

“While it’s encouraging to see numbers improve in some areas, we know there is plenty of work to be done to assist the more than 150,000 people in our region still struggling to put food on the table,” said Foodlink Executive Director Julia Tedesco. “Our mission is to end hunger. We will continue to serve this community until everyone has reliable access to healthy food.”

Food insecurity is defined as a household’s limited or uncertain access to adequate nutritious food. It is assessed in the annual Current Population Survey (CPS) and represented in USDA food-security reports.

Using data from the CPS, the study finds that nationally, on average, food-secure individuals report spending $2.94 per person, per meal. This is a slight increase from the average of $2.89 as reported in Map the Meal Gap 2016. Locally, that number rose from $2.79 to $2.87 based on Nielsen data that factors in the local cost of food and assigns a “cost-of-food index” to each county. That index rose in 8 of the 10 counties in Foodlink’s service area.

The report also shows that 32 percent of the food insecure population in Foodlink’s 10-county service area has a household income higher than the threshold to qualify for SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps. 

“That is particularly troublesome,” Tedesco said. “We all know the benefits of federal nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP, and knowing that one-third of our food insecure clients cannot access this vital program is alarming.”

Map the Meal Gap 2017 uses data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The study is supported by founding sponsor The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Conagra Brands Foundation and Nielsen.

Foodlink is one of 200 food banks in the Feeding America network that collectively provides food assistance to 46 million Americans struggling with hunger. Last year, Foodlink distributed more than 19 million pounds of food, including more than 5.7 million pounds of fresh produce. It supports approximately 500 member agencies and offers dozens of innovative food access and nutrition education programs.

“It is disheartening to realize that millions of hardworking, low-income Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to feed themselves and their families at the same time that our economy is showing many signs of improvement, including a substantial decline in the number of people who are unemployed,” said Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America. “This study underscores the need for strong federal nutrition programs as well of the importance of charitable food assistance programs, especially the food pantries and meal programs served by the Feeding America network of food banks.”

CountyFood insecurity rateEstimated # of food insecure individualsChild food insecurity rateEstimated # of food insecure children
Monroe13.298,83019.131,060
Allegany12.66,07022.82,290
Orleans12.45,25021.81,890
Livingston11.67,54020.32,510
Seneca11.54,03019.51,400
Genesee11.26,65020.32,540
Wyoming11.24,64020.21,670
Yates11.02,78021.11,230
Wayne10.69,81019.64,080
Ontario10.010,93017.74,110
TOTAL12.4156,53019.452,780

A screenshot of the interactive map that details Foodlink’s service area.

Thank you, Carol!

If Music Be the Food Director Carol Rodland accepts a plaque and flowers from Foodlink as an appreciation for eight years of support.

Last night, Foodlink said goodbye (she promises to visit!) and good luck (not like she needs it!) to Carol Rodland of the Eastman School of Music. 

Rodland has accepted a position at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City and is moving in a matter of weeks. 

She holds a special place in our hearts because she is the founder of If Music Be the Food, a concert series that aims to raise awareness for food insecurity in the Rochester area. Attendees are asked to bring non-perishable items and/or a donation to support Foodlink and are treated to an evening of great music from some of the area’s finest musicians. The event is held three times each year, with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (October & April) and Third Presbyterian Church (January) serving as the venues. 

Rodland started the event in 2009, and it has since spread to other cities to support other food banks and nonprofit organizations. In eight years, she has rallied the Rochester community to give $25,000 and 7,000 pounds of food to Foodlink!

Foodlink presented Rodland, a violist, with a bouquet of flowers and a plaque to honor her for the work she’s done to support Foodlink during her time in Rochester. 

She says the series will continue under the direction of fellow Eastman professor and cellist Mimi Hwang. The next concert is scheduled for Oct. 22, 2017 at St. Paul’s and Rodland said she was putting in on her calendar so she could make a special guest appearance.

Best of luck with the move, and with your new life in NYC! Rochester will miss you!

A view of the crowd and the church at the April 30 If Music Be the Food concert at St. Paul’s.

 

 

Foodlink earns Excellus BCBS Community Health Award

The Lexington Avenue Urban Farm provides gardening space for more than 60 Rochester families — many of whom are refugees from Nepal, Somalia or Bhutan.

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Foodlink was one of 36 organizations across the state to earn a 2017 Community Health Award from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

The support, totaling $4,000, will help Foodlink create a safe and inviting play space adjacent to its Lexington Avenue Urban Farm in northwest Rochester. The farm, which began in 2012, primarily serves the local refugee community with more than 60 families expected to participate this year. There are dozens of raised beds, a 72-foot hoop house, fruit trees, bees and field beds. Many families visit the garden, so the goal of the project was to create a space for children to play while their family members tended to the garden. The area also will be open to children who don’t visit the garden, in an effort to cultivate a better sense of community between refugees and non-refugees in the Edgerton and Lyell-Otis neighborhoods. 

Nine Monroe County nonprofits won 2017 Community Health Awards totaling $27,500.

Foodlink intends to seek input from the community, the gardeners, as well as Common Ground Health’s Healthi Kids Coalition, which aims to — among other things — create a more “playable” Rochester for our children. 

The awards were announced April 20 at the Boys & Girls Club of Rochester. The club will use its $4,000 award to continue a new initiative to help students who have experienced childhood trauma. Two children who visit the Boys & Girls Club on Genesee Street attended the news conference, including Sylvester Carter III, whose mother was fatally shot last year. Carter, 14, gave a measured and eloquent speech about how the tragedy has affected his family and how the club helps him cope with the loss. 

He described his mother as “caring” and someone who would give him “all she ever had.”

“I can’t see that smile no more. I can’t hear her voice no more,” Carter said. “That’s why I thank the Boys & Girls Club. I can come here and get my mind off things, be with my friends, talk … all that pain and suffering is gone. I come here because they give me comfort.”

In total, $110,500 in funds were allocated to the 36 award winners out of approximately 200 applicants in a 31-county upstate region. The other winners from Monroe County who were honored Thursday include: Borinquen Dance Theatre, Inc., Child Care Council, Inc., Mental Health Association, RESOLVE of Greater Rochester, Samaritan Center of Excellence, Spiritus Christi Prison Outreach Prison Outreach and Willow Domestic Violence Center. 

Sylvester Carter III, who frequents the Boys & Girls Club, talks about losing his mother to gun violence last year and how the club has helped him cope with tragedy. (Credit: Excellus BCBS)

In it together: Foodlink hosts Community Food Conference

A panel discussion about food access, SNAP and other hunger- and health-related issues in the Rochester area.

A decade ago, the theme of Foodlink’s Community Food Conference would have undoubtedly been different.

More food? Infrastructure improvements? Attracting volunteers and donors? Yes, yes and yes.

These days, however, we’re covering those topics while devoting a significant amount of attention to health and nutrition. It’s vital to understand how the emergency food system and health care system intersect.

Executive Director Julia Tedesco gave the conference’s opening remarks and offered a famous food-related quote on which the audience could reflect.

“The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.”

Executive Director Julia Tedesco welcomes agencies to Foodlink for the 2017 Community Food Conference on April 12.

Dr. Steve Cook, a pediatrician & internist at UR Medicine — and an expert on obesity — spoke about the research he’s done that shows how healthy food access relates to obesity, which he emphasized as a disease with multiple physical and physiological factors, rather than simply a weight issue.

A telling visual of food access in the City of Rochester was showed on a map of the city, with banana icons representing grocery stores and produce vendors, and french fry icons that represented fast food and corner stores. The fries won. By a lot.

Dr. Steve Cook delivers the keynote address on April 12.

Wednesday marked the second of three conferences Foodlink is hosting as a means of bringing its network of member agencies together to network, learn best practices, and share our successes and challenges. Foodlink has a network of nearly 500 agencies throughout its service area — those that offer emergency (food pantries, soup kitchens, etc.) and non-emergency (day cares, senior centers, etc.) food service.

After Dr. Cook’s presentation, a panel discussion followed. Panelists included Dr. Cook, Foodlink’s Mitch Gruber (Chief Programs Officer), Eat Smart New York’s Maggie Barone-McHugh and Pamela Johnson, a Nutrition Outreach amd Education Program (NOEP) coordinator with the Monroe County Legal Assistance Center.

Agency representatives also signed up for a pair of breakout sessions. Topics included: Improving Nutrition, Stretching your Budget, Food Safety, Agency Best Practices, Managing Finances, Succession Planning, Connecting with Public Health, and Fundraising.

The day concludes with a series of round-tables, where agencies can learn about various Foodlink programs, such as the Curbside Market, our Enabled Agencies program, and are various Nutrition Education options. Attendees were also given a tour of Foodlink’s new Community Kitchen. 

With two down and one to go, it’s been tremendous experience gathering so many like-minded organizations and kind-hearted people together for a talk about our community needs and how we can address them in an effective and dignified manner. 

Foodlink can’t achieve our goals without a strong network.

They know that and we know that. And we’re grateful for everything they do. 

***

VIDEOS: Below are two videos prepared for the conference that offer a sneak peak at what our agencies do for those in need.

 

VAP-time: Foodlink apple-slicing line up and running

Apples collect in a tray after being washed in Foodlink’s Value-Added Processing Center.

For the Foodlinkers hard at work inside our new Value-Added Processing Center, it seems they’ll now have to get a decent shoulder workout elsewhere.

Gone are the days of using a manual apple slicer, which required a forceful pull-down of a large, metal contraption that sliced two apples at at time, which barely yielded one case of apple slices per hour. Now, the automated line is up and running and Foodlink is slicing apples like never before.

It’s one component of the Community Kitchen that has transformed the way Foodlink serves the community.

“The joy of seeing kids eating apples that would normally be thrown away because they weren’t sliced is beyond amazing,” said Moses Ulom, Foodlink’s VAP Supervisor. “Hey, if the kids love it, then we love it too!”

The old way we sliced apples …

In 2012, Foodlink founder Tom Ferraro was approached with two apple-related issues. (1) There were kids in Wayne County schools that were eating Washington State apples. This made little sense, due to the fact that Wayne County is among the top apple-producing counties in the nation; and (2) A Cornell University study showed that children were much more likely to eat a sliced apple than a whole one if it was served to them at school. Simply put: Apple slices ended up in bellies. Whole apples ended up in trash cans.

Armed with this data, Ferraro agreed to take the idea and run with it. Foodlink’s apple-slicing operation, known as Value-Added Processing (VAP), began. 

The program showed promising growth through the first few years. Last fiscal year, Foodlink sliced and distributed more than 50,000 pounds of apples. The slices are sold to two area distributors, which then provide them to local schools.

“After planning and talking about this apple line for a year and a half, it’s incredible to see it come to life,” said Terra Keller, Foodlink’s Chief Operating Officer. “It’s a key piece to our Community Kitchen, and one that will grow to meet the needs of our community. We look forward to collaborating with more distributors so we can send even more local apples into our local schools.”

With Foodlink’s new equipment up and running, expect numbers to increase as more partnerships are secured with distributors. Foodlink also intends to distribute sliced apples to its member agencies, as well as offer them to the Summer Meals and Curbside Market programs. As apples catch on, our VAP Center also intends to process other produce options, such as diced butternut squash, and carrot and cucumber coins. 

In the first couple days of production, Foodlink’s VAP center produced 43 cases in roughly 8 hours of work. With the old method, that would have taken 43 hours — not to mention some sore shoulders.

“We started slicing apples using the hand corer, which wasn’t designed for mass production,” Ulom said. “It got even tougher as the demand for sliced apples began to increase daily. We explored many options, but none of them were efficient enough to help us accomplish our objectives. Thanks to our generous donors, Foodlink is now able to provide kids with more nutritious and delicious snacks to keep them healthy.”

The apple line is fairly complex, and incredibly long. From the apple bin to the bagger, it measures 86 feet with a few twists and turns along the way. From start to finish, here are the 10 main steps:

1) Washed
2) Dried
3) Sliced
4) Soaked
5) Sorted
6) Inspected
7) Bagged
8) Counted
9) Boxed
10) Shipped

It’s an amazing addition to Foodlink’s Community Kitchen, and certainly a dream come true for Moses and his colleagues. Getting more nutritious snacks in front of kids is essential to building a healthy, hunger-free community. 

The apples take a quick bath in citric acid to prevent browning before they are sorted into bags.

Local granola company gives back

The Perfect Granola made its first donation to Foodlink on Friday.

What a Perfect end to the week. 

On Friday, Foodlink received a donation of 210 cases of The Perfect Granola, a rapidly growing company that was “created on the foundation of giving back.”

Owner Michele Liddle has taken her homemade recipes from her kitchen in Victor to more than 500 retail locations — including Wegmans — in six states. Her company is growing fast, but this isn’t a money-making venture.

“Our profits go to homeless shelters, outreach centers, and addiction clinics and we’re so happy to be able to make a donation to Foodlink,” Liddle said. 

Other local nonprofits and organizations that have benefitted from The Perfect Granola’s generosity include Teen Challenge, ROCovery Fitness, Open Door Mission, House of Mercy, Western NY Hop Project and the YMCA.

Liddle, a mother of two girls, is showing them what it takes to set goals and reach them.

“We really wanted to do something to show our girls what you could do if you have an idea. You can actually take it from conception to reality — it’s really exciting.” 

More: The Perfect Granola featured in 2016 D&C story

The Perfect Granola, which is based in Victor, donated 210 cases to Foodlink on March 31.

Got a nutrition question? Ask away!

As part of National Nutrition Month, we’re encouraging the public to submit questions to our talented and very knowledge nutrition educators throughout the month of March. 

You can do so in a variety of ways … 

(1) Check out this Facebook post and comment with your question.

(2) Hit us up on Twitter with a question … use #NNM17 and tag @foodlinkny.

(3) Email our Nutrition Education Manager, Alyssa, at avanvalkenburg@foodlinkny.org. 

One of our educators will field your question and give you a detailed response within days. Plus, we’ll compile some of the most interesting questions in a video Q&A, which we’ll share on our social media channels toward the end of the month. 

Want an example? Here’s one question that came in, and the answer provided by one of our Finger Lakes Eat Smart New York educators, Laura Held:

Q: What are the main health benefits of going vegan? Are there any major nutritional drawbacks?

A: Hello! Technically, veganism is actually an ethical philosophy, not just a diet. Being vegan, essentially, means to exclude any animal products from your life — as much as possible. So, for example, vegans do not purchase leather, wool, or silk goods, in addition to not eating meat, dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin, and anything else from an animal source. Veganism is a lifestyle choice for those who do not believe it is necessary for humans to utilize animals for human needs, and that as much as possible, one should avoid doing so. For more information on being vegan and the myriad choices that a vegan makes about what to purchase, wear, or eat, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veganism

That being said, there are many people these days who refer to themselves as vegan, who are following a vegan diet or close to a vegan diet, who may not follow the rest of the vegan lifestyle. And that is what our questioner was really asking about. The more appropriate terminology for this diet is to call it a “plant-based diet.” A plant-based diet could, for example, include honey and maybe gelatin, as the main point of a plant-based diet is to avoid meat, dairy, and eggs, and not necessarily (although it may!) avoiding substances that are derived from animals. There are numerous reasons why someone may choose to eat a plant-based diet. It may include the ethical reasons listed above. It also may include environmental considerations. And it likely includes concerns for one’s health.
 
A plant-based diet will be naturally low in saturated fat, as this unhealthy fat (which in excess is dangerous to our heart) is mostly found in animal products like meat and dairy. Therefore, this diet is considered extremely heart-healthy. As long as one is sensible with portion control and cooking methods (no trans fats!), and not consuming excess sodium or added sugars, a plant-based diet is extremely healthy. There are several research studies that have looked at this, and several renowned medical doctors, who currently work with patients who need to lose weight and get their biometrics in good order, who prescribe this diet to their patients. Two local examples are Dr. Ted Barnett, MD (Medical Director and CEO of Rochester Lifestyle Medicine) and Dr. Thomas Campbell, MD (Medical Director of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and co-founder and clinical director of the University of Rochester Program for Nutrition in Medicine). Dr. Campbell, along with his father, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, co-authored a ground-breaking study on the plant-based diet, The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and The Startling Implications for Diet, Weight-Loss, and Long-Term Health. And in 2015, Dr. Thomas Campbell published The Campbell Plan: The Simple Way to Lose Weight and Reverse Illness, Using the China Study’s Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet. To learn more about this book and diet, you can listen to Dr. Thomas Campbell’s July 2015appearance on “Connections with Evan Dawson.”  
 
Another influential contributor to the world of the plant-based diet is Dr. David Ludwig, MD, PhD, based at Harvard University. In 2016 he published Always Hungry?: Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells and Lose Weight Permanently. Here is a short Q&A with him in The New York Times about his book and research.  
 
To eat a plant-based diet healthfully, one must make sure to get enough protein (examples: legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu/soy and soy products, some whole grains like quinoa), calcium (examples: fortified non-dairy equivalents like soy milk or almond milk, fortified orange juice, dark leafy greens, nutritional supplements), vitamin D (examples: fortified non-dairy equivalents like soy milk or almond milk, fortified orange juice, nutritional supplements), and iron (examples: dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts and seeds, some whole grains). It is also important to get enough Omega-3 fatty acids(examples: flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, hemp seeds, seaweed).
 
Other than that, one must simply eat a well-balanced diet and one will get all of their nutritional needs met — except for one critical nutrient: B12. There is no naturally occurring B12 found in non-animal products. B12 is a critical nutrient for our brain function and formation of red blood cells. But this is easily remedied. B12 is fortified in breakfast cereals and other food products. There are a variety of nutritional supplements. And there is a product called “nutritional yeast” which can be used as a cheese-like flaky topping or can be utilized in cooking numerous foods to create a cheese-y quality. The required daily intake for B12 is quite minimal, but anyone on a plant-based diet should be sure to inform their doctor and have their B12 level tested as regularly as the doctor suggests in order to ensure that they are never too low on this critical nutrient. It is also recommended to have your vitamin D levels tested, especially if you live in Rochester, where we don’t have enough access to the sun to naturally boost our vitamin D levels.