CHICAGO — Neighbor Loaves link farms, mills, and bakeries to food shelves in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The Artisan Grain Collaborative, a group of individuals and organizations working to strengthen and promote the diversity of grains on the landscape in the Upper Midwest, has started this innovative program to support businesses in the grain supply chain while addressing bread shortages for emergency feeding programs.
Community members are invited to purchase Neighbor Loaves through participating bakeries’ online stores. Bakers craft these loaves with at least 50% local flour, and the bread is distributed to area food pantries and community feeding organizations. Bakeries in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have joined the initiative, with nearly 4,000 loaves purchased since the program launched on March 28. Loaf “matching” is happening, too; local businesses have offered to purchase an amount of loaves equal to the number ordered by community members to help keep bakeries baking and families eating. The effort has moved beyond the Upper Midwest, connecting regional grain economies to people who need food in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and Mid-Atlantic.
“Right now, farmers are planting grain and they need to know they’ll have a place to sell this year’s crop. At the same time, bakers are facing reduced revenues, emergency feeding organizations are in need of donations, and many people are sitting at home looking for ways to support their community. It was a natural fit to connect these pieces,” says Alyssa Hartman, executive director of the Artisan Grain Collaborative, who conceived of the program.
Neighbor Loaves strengthens local and regional food systems by connecting communities of farmers, millers, bakers and eaters. As the empty grocery store shelves of the COVID pandemic have evidenced, resilient regional staple crop value chains mean community food security.
“We know that people are looking for a way to help during this challenging time,” says Julie Matthei, co-owner of Hewn Bakery in Evanston, IL, which has made more than 1,200 Neighbor Loaves for nearby Hillside Food Pantry. “Here is an opportunity to ensure that people in our community have access to important staple foods.”
Stabilizing production at bakeries has been a key advantage for Hewn and other participants. Bloomington, Indiana is home to Muddy Fork Farm & Bakery, whose three part time employees lost their other employment because of statewide closures. Increasing production through Neighbor Loaves allowed the bakery to up the hours of these people and cover their lost income.
Bread is always in short supply at food pantries, and charities have been drastically affected by the supply chain problems at supermarkets. According to Chris Brockel of FEED Kitchens in Madison, WI, “On conference calls all week with the Community Action Coalition, Boys and Girls Club, River Food Pantry and Second Harvest Foodbank, the message was loud and clear that they had no bread. I would have never guessed it and it was a huge surprise to me but all the pantries are screaming for bread. Having no bread available is devastating as it is the main item in food pantries. For families to make simple meals at home right now is so important–sandwiches are important!”
Bakeries that would like to bake Neighbor Loaves and consumers who would like to purchase them can find more information at graincollaborative.com/neighbor-loaves.
For more information about Artisan Grain Collaborative or Neighbor Loaves, visit graincollaborative.com/neighbor-loaves and follow @graincollab on Facebook and Twitter, and @artisangraincollab on Instagram.
— Artisan Grain Collaborative
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