The organization’s two summer programs address food insecurity in our community.
Situated in downtown Warrenton are two adjacent trailers that share a ramp and walkway for their entrance. To the left is the doorway of the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) office, and to the right sits Fauquier FISH (For Immediate Sympathetic Help). FISH is a nutritionally-focused food pantry serving people with food insecurities in Fauquier County. Their vision leads with the following: no one in Fauquier County goes hungry, and everyone has a place to turn to in a time of need. Recently, VCE Master Gardeners Jessica Lesefka and Natalie Ortiz had a chance to sit down and talk with Charity Furness, the executive director of FISH, about how FISH has expanded their programs over the past year.
What’s new and exciting at FISH?
This summer, FISH rolled out two new programs: Farm to Table DASH Meals and the Power of Produce program, both of which focus on fresh, local produce.
Vegetables from the Fauquier Education Farm
Can you tell us more about the Farm to Table DASH Meals?
DASH — Delicious, Affordable, Simple, and Healthy — is a farm to table program in partnership with the Fauquier Education Farm which enables us to supply clients with exceptionally fresh produce. We are taking locally grown, freshly picked produce, pairing it with delicious recipes, and enabling people to put them on the dinner table in as little as one day. Often the produce coming into the food pantry has been harvested in the morning and distributed the very same day.
The Food Pantry offers DASH Meals in a kit. The kits include all the ingredients needed to prepare a meal for dinner along with easy to follow recipes. In addition to the DASH Meals, food pantry clients leave with enough grocery staples for breakfast and lunch, including milk, eggs, and butter to feed their families for a week.
We’re very fortunate to be located next to the Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The Master Gardeners will be donating a variety of fresh herbs and vegetables from the Vegetable Demonstration Garden, an onsite plot located outside of FISH and VCE. All of these contributions of fresh produce add up; herbs from the store can add $5-10 to a grocery bill.
There’s been a lot of excitement around the POP Club and POP Bucks! Can you tell us more?
The Power of Produce (POP) Program is designed to increase the local agricultural economy by increasing Farmers Market vitality and addressing food insecurities within our community. The POP Club refers to a collection of fun kids activities at the Warrenton Farmers Markets such as tastings, scavenger hunts, building dirt babies, food art, and more.
What are POP Bucks?
POP Bucks are coupons or vouchers that can be used at the farmers markets. They are part of the Power of Produce program – a program designed to encourage children to explore the farmers market, try new foods, and eat farm-fresh foods.
POP Bucks and the POP Program are supported by The PATH Foundation, Fauquier FISH, The Fauquier Community Food Bank and Thrift Store, The Fagus Foundation, FRESH, and Commit to be Fit.
Where are POP Bucks being distributed in the community?
POP Bucks were sent home with all Fauquier County elementary school students and all Rappahannock students in May. Children can find additional POP Bucks at the public libraries in both Fauquier and Rappahannock counties through the summer reading program. BOB (Books On the Bus) will be distributing POP Bucks during BOB’s Summer Adventure. We have also partnered with Experience Old Town Warrenton to offer POP Bucks during First Fridays on Main Street in Old Town Warrenton. Children who join the POP Club and visit the farmers market five times throughout the summer will also earn $4 in POP Bucks (check in at the Power of Produce tent). To reduce food insecurity in our community Fauquier FISH along with Fauquier Community Food Bank and Thrift Store and the Free Clinic will be distributing POP Bucks to families in need of extra nutritional support to help them purchase healthy produce for meals.
Where can the POP Bucks be spent?
The Farmers Market Coalition, in partnership with the Warrenton Farmers Markets and Archwood Green Barn Farmers Market, will be accepting POP Bucks this summer. Shoppers can spend their POP bucks with participating vendors at each market to increase their buying power. This also assists with the vitality of the Farmers Markets.
How can the community come together to support FISH and its mission?
FISH is a 100 percent volunteer-run organization. This summer we are looking for volunteers, young and old, to help harvest produce at the Educational Farm and then transport the food to our food pantry. We are in need of volunteers to help assemble all of our DASH meals, and to assist during our open distribution sessions.
We are also in desperate need of a larger space. Our organization is currently housed in three separate locations, making transporting food and supplies difficult. The Board of Directors has found a potential space and is fundraising to cover the buildout costs of the space. A larger space will increase synergy between organizational programs and provide greater opportunities for group volunteer projects and, of course, additional growth. We would love to preserve freshly harvested produce and serve it throughout the winter months, but are limited by space.
Fauquier County is one of the wealthiest counties in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and we still have over 4,000 neighbors who don’t know where their next meal will come from. Our county is also very generous and together we are working very hard to end hunger here. Without the support of our community and the dedication of our volunteers, we could not accomplish all that we do. Thank you!
DASH meals and the POP Program are only two of FISH’s community projects; they also serve the Fauquier community through their Weekend Power Pack Program, Book Bag and School Supplies Program, Senior Supplemental Nutrition Program, Food for Fuel, and their Domestic Violence Advocacy Program.
About the Authors
Jessica Lesefka is the Program Coordinator and Natalie Ortiz is the Chef for Fauquier Reaches for Excellence in School Health (FRESH), a grant-funded program to support and enhance a supportive culture of health and wellness for Fauquier students, staff, and the community. They are both Master Gardeners in the Fauquier County Chapter under Virginia Cooperative Extension.