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Salvation Farms

Building increased resilience in Vermont's food system.

The team at Salvation Farms is driven by three primary goals: reducing food loss on farms, increasing the use of locally grown foods and fostering an appreciation for Vermont’s agricultural heritage and future. Hannaford has supported this nonprofit through the Fight Hunger Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs. Photos courtesy of Salvation Farms unless indicated otherwise.

Tell us about Salvation Farms.

I’m the founder of Salvation Farms, which started in 2005 after a pilot year at a farm where I was employed. We initially worked under the fiscal umbrella of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. Following employment at Vermont Food Bank, where I developed some of their fresh produce handling systems, I chose to incorporate Salvation Farms in 2011, and we received our incorporation status in 2012.

We started out as a gleaning organization. Our aim was to provide folks in the community with educational experiences that could influence and reacclimate their thinking about food sourcing but also build more community and individual agency through understanding what we have locally.

Since then, our mission has evolved beyond just active gleaning to looking more at food system development. Now our focus is building food system resilience by managing farm surplus food, and we do this on a regional basis here in Vermont.

…our mission has evolved beyond just active gleaning to looking more at food systems development.

Our goal is to create replicable models that could be adapted and implemented elsewhere. We’re interested in making systems-level change, and we’re interested in helping others do the same.

What got me into this work is that I had agriculture in my childhood and in my family. I studied sustainable agriculture and natural resource management and ecology. Here in Vermont, people aren’t that far away from the land and home-based economies, so I already had that kind of philosophy baked into my being.

What services do you supply to the community?

First and foremost, we see ourselves as a service provider to farms. We move available, edible food that they can’t afford to move.

Then, beyond that, we also serve eaters in two different buckets. First as volunteers by providing an opportunity to have a hands-on experience, most likely on farms, where they can understand more about agriculture, local food systems and why good food doesn’t always make it to people. Then the other bucket of eaters are folks served by charitable or institutional food programs.

We donate all the food from our gleaning to charitable sites, such as affordable and senior housing and pre-schools or sites that distribute food through a food shelf model or through a prepared meal.

Then there are institutional food programs; this is an area that we’re really aspiring to scale up. This involved purchasing surplus food from farms, and then selling it to institutions, predominantly prisons, schools K through 12 and possibly hospitals. These institutions do their meal programs on pretty restrictive budgets, and they source a lot of food from out of state. Some of what we’re trying to do at the supply chain level is determine how can we help logistically move local surplus into those institutions at a price point that competes with outside sources. And really to do that work to scale, whether to serve charity or institutional food programs, we’re moving beyond just raw food. We’re also making frozen foods, and we hope down the road to do dried and possibly canned food as well.

What sets you apart from other nonprofits in your community?

We are systems thinkers and crisis informed. We understand that there’s shared population vulnerabilities because the systems we all rely on are a little precarious; little things can throw off big systems. So, our systems approach will have a daily impact.

And I think the other thing about Salvation Farms that’s unique is that we’ve always been really inspired by leveraging relationships, collaborations and existing assets so that we don’t necessarily need to do everything ourselves. Often working in collaboration or using someone else’s assets can advance both parties’ missions, even if you’re in different sectors. For instance, model building; what if we can create a good model and then help other people set it up. It’s going to be more secure because there will be community investment and ownership.

We are systems thinkers and crisis informed.

I would say the other thing about our uniqueness is that we definitely, at least from my perspective as a founder, make decisions with the understanding that ecological thinking is beyond the moment; it’s generational and interconnected. That also sets us apart.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.

One story concerns our newer kinds of relationships. I recently met one of our funders and found that they distribute food to refugee families in a local town. We were able to provide some of the food that we glean from farms to their distribution. That’s a new expansion through just conversation and connections.

We’ve done workforce development as well, and as we scale our frozen food production and some of our larger scale cleaning and packing, we will be doing workforce development again. One story I’d like to share regards one of our workforce development participants. This was in a large facility where we would bring in literally tons of carrots or potatoes; we would clean and pack them into smaller packages and put them on pallets where they could be ordered in bulk and easily inventoried and distributed through a larger food bank or pantry.

Our training program was sixteen weeks in length. We welcomed anyone that we thought could be successful, and we wanted to engage people that had real barriers to employment, whether it was physical, mental or emotional, or a life condition like a violent felony conviction, substance misuse or homelessness.

We engaged an individual who had a career in truck driving but was losing their eyesight. They had moved to Vermont to live with their ex-wife. Since going through our program and accessing other social support programs, they found their own place to live. They were employed by another visually impaired employer and have since taken over the role of managing that business.

Another story concerns an individual who was convicted of a violent felony who came into our program; they couldn’t get employed anywhere because of that record. In the beginning this person was walking to work with us; then they took a bus. They reestablished their license and were able to drive; towards the end of the program, they drove their housemate’s vehicle. Once they completed our program, they were offered a job making upwards of $18 an hour with benefits. Three months later, they pulled in to visit us at our facility with a car they had just purchased.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

I think our largest contribution is the fact that we are doing something different. There are organizations that do similar work. We’re not the only gleaning organization; we’re not the only organization that moves food to charitable food sites. But we are looking at using an existing resource that has gone unused or not valued, and we’ve made the effort to try to figure out what we have to do as a people to use this food more wisely to meet our food needs now and in the future.

I think our largest contribution is the fact that we are doing something different.

Doing something new is probably our greatest accomplishment and being persistent in trying different models and approaches, stumbling and trying again to succeed.

What do you want people to know about your organization?

Most folks think that we work in the anti-hunger realm or food access or food security and yes, we do, but not in the short-term way that most people think about addressing hunger or food insecurity. We are addressing how we can reduce population vulnerability to food insecurity.

How do you use the funds raised from the Hannaford Fight Hunger Reusable Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs?

We use those funds and any funds invested in our mission to keep fighting the good fight, to keep showing up every day to do the on-the-ground work in our community, creating models that are trailblazing and that allow us to show the way to others as well.

Photo: Planet Axis

Theresa Snow is Founder and Executive Director of Salvation Farms.

Published July 26, 2023.