The Foodbank takes a wide view

The Foodbank’s site (left) has made a lot of out of a former industrial site (a “before” image shown at right), transforming it into a space with vegetable gardens, trees and even pollinator habitat (as seen in the background of the left photo). CONTRIBUTED
Caption
The Foodbank’s site (left) has made a lot of out of a former industrial site (a “before” image shown at right), transforming it into a space with vegetable gardens, trees and even pollinator habitat (as seen in the background of the left photo). CONTRIBUTED

360-degree approach helps transform lives.

The Foodbank’s new Beverly K. Greenehouse — billed as the first hydroponic greenhouse at any food bank in the nation — will be a vital part of the organization’s mission to relieve food insecurity. At 6,000 square feet, it will produce up to 80,000 fresh vegetables for year-round, day-of-harvest distribution to nourish families in need in the Dayton area.

Many local residents may not realize, however, that securing and distributing 18 million pounds of food per year is only part of The Foodbank’s mission. The organization takes a more holistic “360-degree approach” to helping the Dayton community, said Foodbank Chief Development Officer Lee Lauren Truesdale.

The Foodbank’s site (left) has made a lot of out of a former industrial site (a “before” image shown at right), transforming it into a space with vegetable gardens, trees and even pollinator habitat (as seen in the background of the left photo). CONTRIBUTED
Caption
The Foodbank’s site (left) has made a lot of out of a former industrial site (a “before” image shown at right), transforming it into a space with vegetable gardens, trees and even pollinator habitat (as seen in the background of the left photo). CONTRIBUTED

“Food insecurity is rooted in a number of things,” Truesdale said, “failed public policy, community and neighborhood disinvestment caused by racism and redlining, as well as a lack of livable wage jobs. In recognition of these things, we know it takes more than acquiring and distributing food to truly end hunger. We are working on addressing the root causes of poverty and food insecurity to make lasting change in our community.”

One approach The Foodbank has taken to helping Dayton is through beautification of a blighted former industrial site. In what Truesdale called “one of the most disinvested areas in the county,” The Foodbank has become a diamond in the rough. On a property purchased for $5 from the City of Dayton Lot Links program, the organization has added a 31,000-square-foot warehouse, 70 raised garden beds and a continuous-flow composting system. They have also transformed a fenced parking lot into flowerbeds, trees and pollinator habitat, providing welcome visual relief in an area comprised primarily of blacktop and industry. These transformations have earned the site the nicknames “Foodbank forest” and “fresh food forest.”

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In a second aspect of its comprehensive approach, The Foodbank also operates with an awareness of how climate change and food insecurity are intertwined. They strive to reduce food waste through food rescue and distribution, work with local gardens and farms to limit travel and use ecologically friendly in-vessel composting (in a recycled shipping container) for foods that must be thrown away. Through student projects in partnership with the University of Dayton, they strategically plan distribution routes for efficiency, minimizing carbon dioxide output and pollution. They also follow Environmental Protection Agency best practices for stormwater management, employ rainwater catchment systems to reduce water use and have a rain garden to help reduce stormwater runoff.

A third facet of The Foodbank’s approach is its efforts to educate the public on urban gardening. They provide field trips and tours where school groups and others can view the traditional greenhouse, raised garden beds, container gardens, composting facility and hydroponic greenhouse, thus learning about growing food and composting in their own yards. “With projects like the greenhouse,” write Emily Gallion and Caitlyn McIntosh on The Foodbank blog, “we can teach our community that you don’t need acres of farmland or even 6,000 square foot greenhouses to grow your own food — everything can be done to scale in your own home.”

In a fourth part of its 360-degree approach, The Foodbank also provides employment for residents in need. One third of their staff is currently made up of previously incarcerated persons, and the goal is to recruit half of their team from the re-entry sphere. They offer their employees training in job skills, funding for college and assistance in securing stable employment. Employees receive a $15 per hour starting wage, health-care benefits, a 5% 401k match after one year, a free YMCA family membership and at least one free college course per semester.

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“We are incredibly passionate about re-entry work,” Truesdale said. She pointed out that the process of hiring re-entry individuals as team members helps to stabilize lives and reduces recidivism.

The Foodbank also works to transforms lives. It provides returning citizens a stable place to work while they integrate back into society, which includes finding stable housing, paying bills and sometimes working to regain custody of children. And while the staff would like to retain its employees long-term, Truesdale said, they consider it an achievement when a team member says farewell. Some former team members complete the last arc of the 360-degree circle, choosing to give back to society by working in the re-entry sphere themselves.

“It’s the greatest honor when, after a team member has been with us for a few years,” said Truesdale, “to see [them] move on to work in something they are incredibly passionate about.”

Contributing writer Kari Carter is a member of The Journalism Lab of Dayton and an instructor at Sinclair Community College.