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FAITH Fresh Frozen ribbon cutting ceremony

FAITH Farms made a believer out of Gary

Contributed By: The 411 News

Progressive Community Church plants a neighborhood garden and 10 years later is set to feed thousands

FAITH Farms and Orchard, in Gary’s Emerson neighborhood, is now on the nation’s map as the most recent example of how community organizations are bringing long-term solutions to food issues and hunger.

That Progressive Community Church would plant a garden on the vacant lot next door so its neighbors could have fresh produce and some 10 years later is set to help feed thousands of families in communities across northwest Indiana was cause for celebration.

The U.S. faces a peculiar problem with 40% of the food grown by farmers in the country going to landfills. Yet, many people go hungry and lack access to healthy foods.

“A solution to that is why we’re here,” said Progressive’s Pastor Curtis Whittaker at the ribbon cutting to launch FAITH Fresh Frozen, a facility that will receive fresh produce from local farmers, freeze, package, and sell it.

Over the years, Gary became a believer in FAITH Farms. Its growing season expanded past the summer months. It partnered with Gary’s urban farms and family farms in rural northwest Indiana to provide fresh produce for farmers’ markets and its community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.

The farm has an urban agricultural program for students in grades 6-12 that offers paid internships. It operates a food is medicine program with Methodist Hospitals.

Feeding America and its partner Food Bank NWI took notice. “We believe every person and every community should have access to healthy foods,” said Ami McReynolds, Feeding America’s CEO. “Our Food Security Equity Impact Fund is in 35 cities, replicating the work we see here at FAITH Farms.”

The fund provided a $750,000 grant to create a home for FAITH Fresh Frozen in a vacant building a block away from the church.

“Feeding America, Food Bank NWI, the Legacy Foundation … they believed in us, when nobody else did,” Pastor Whittaker said. “They invested in us. They believed in Victor. Because they believed in Victor, they believed in us.” Victor Garcia is executive director of Food Bank NWI. At Food Security Equity Impact Fund sites, a local food bank partners with the community organization.

“FAITH Fresh Frozen is a micro enterprise. Think Birdseye; that's flash frozen,” Pastor Whittaker said. “This facility will provide frozen produce that maintains its nutritional value. We’re going to donate 20 percent to Food Bank NWI. The remaining 80% we’re going to sell to schools, hospitals, casinos, and restaurants.”

Chef Lucero Martinez-Donato makes sure that FAITH Fresh Frozen follows guidelines for packaging and distributing foods sold to the public.

“We follow the Hazard Analysis and Critical Check Points (HACCP) guidelines,” Chef Martinez-Donato said, “to prevent any kind of contamination.”

In the receiving room, produce is time stamped with the location of the farm it came from and its temperature. Produce is washed, weighed and sorted.

Produce that won’t be frozen, like some leaves and stems, will be used to make a vegetable stock for soups. Leftovers will feed the farm animals.

Martinez-Donato said produce is again time stamped with the farm location and its temperature before flash freezing and vacuum sealing for storage in the freezer room.

Another thing the grant did, Pastor Whittaker said, was put money back into the community. “Everything you see here in this building was done by local black and brown people like us.” Sharon Johnson, the general contractor and Sylvester Cason’s electrical company, FAMCo, renovated the building that was once a neighborhood store.

Soledad Barajas, left, and Anna Engel in FAITH Fresh Frozen receiving room

Chef Lucero Martinez-Donato shows fruits that have been flash frozen and vacuum sealed

FAITH Fresh Frozen ribbon cutting. Pastor Curtis Whittaker, center, holding scissors between Victor Garcia of Food Bank NWI, Ami McReynolds of Feeding America, and Kelly Anoe of the Legacy Foundation.

Story Posted:04/03/2024

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