2014 Fresh Produce Preservation Project Report

Becky and Dora

Becky and Dora

The Fresh Produce Preservation Project (FPPP), started in 2010, perfectly complements the Gathering’s mission to feed the hungry and to do so with respect and dignity. By increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in our meals, we increase the nutritional value and food options available to our guests. Over the past four years, the FPPP has continued to expand and improve. This year, we welcomed a new Fresh Produce Project Manager: UW-Milwaukee Conservation and Environmental Sciences student, Dora.

Dora’s environmental focus brought new recipes, new connections and new knowledge to the project. One notable new partner was Duane, from Compost Express. Duane brought us produce such as plums, apples, peaches, corn, onions, potatoes and more that was in good shape and would have otherwise been composted. In addition, Duane took all remaining compostable materials from the project so we could limit our waste.

We also continued partnerships with the Hunger Task Force Farm and the Witte’s Vegetable Farm, who once again donated the majority of the project’s produce. We received contributions of apples again this year from the Mequon Nature Preserve, and additional produce from the UWM Food and Garden Club. We are grateful for their continued contributions. Dr. Phillips from UW-Milwaukee (whose class partnered with us last year for our COOLBOT project) also remained a strong partner, continuing to bring classes to assist with the project. Special thanks again, to All Saints Cathedral for allowing us to use their space for our Coolbot.

Produce colunteers picked apples at the Mequon Nature Preserve

Produce colunteers picked apples at the Mequon Nature Preserve

As always, our mighty volunteer force made the project possible. With almost 70 volunteers, 23% returning and 77% new, there were plenty of hands on deck. New volunteers included Milwaukee Public School students, a service group from NEWaukee, and Marquette University volunteers among other individuals and groups. Volunteers chopped peppers, canned apple pie filling, picked potatoes, onions and carrots and went out of their way to put away as much produce as possible for use in our community meals. Already in winter of 2015 we have used frozen potatoes in dishes, mirepoix in soups and sauces, and greens and poblano peppers in casseroles. Not to mention the onions. Let’s just say, by the end of the produce season, we were all in tears.

Thanks again to everyone who made the project possible this year. We are proud of the work we do to contribute to health and sustainability in Milwaukee and we are looking forward to what next season will bring.

Check out these all-star volunteers who reached service milestones in 2014:

100+ Hours Volunteering with the FPPP Eileen Duffey - 105 total hours

30+ Hours Volunteering with the FPPP Jill Kortebein - 45 total hours Lisa Kortebein - 30 total hours

Dora and returning produce project volunteers after a pepper-filled session

Dora and returning produce project volunteers after a pepper-filled session

TOTAL PRODUCE PRESERVED 1964 lbs. frozen vegetables, 30 quarts apple pie filling

478 lbs of carrots, 400 lbs of corn, 384 lbs of potatoes, 300 lbs of onions, 140 lbs of poblano peppers, 123 lbs of bell peppers, 70 lbs of mirepoix (carrot, onion and celery mixture), 40 lbs of green beans, 29 lbs tomatoes

Coolbot Cooler Room Construction Almost Completed

You may have heard of a project the Gathering is doing thanks to a grant from the UWM Cultures and Communities Program Office. Through this grant, the Gathering is partnering with UWM professor Dr. Phillips and her undergraduate class entitled "Practical Approaches to a Sustainable Future." The class is growing their own produce in ten garden beds. They are learning the science behind creating sustainable human systems and food production. As an added bonus, the class will be working with the Gathering's Fresh Produce Preservation Project to learn how to safely preserve the produce they have grown. 

Already, the class has donated close to fifty pounds of produce to the Gathering's Fresh Produce Preservation Project.

Another perk of working together, is that the Gathering is constructing a Coolbot Cooler room (pictured above!). In a space donated by All Saint's Cathedral, construction has begun! The room is made out of studded wall panels with polystyrene foam insulated walls. Using a window a/c unit and some innovative technology known as a Coolbot, the insulated room will be able to get down to temperatures close to 30 degrees F. This room is perfect for storing produce while it is waiting to be preserved! It greatly increases the Gathering's ability to accept produce donations and is a huge asset to the Fresh Produce Preservation Project.

Construction on the room should be done by the end of this week, just in time for the UWM student's preservation session in early October. Stay tuned for more pictures and updates! Special thanks to all of our supporters who made this room possible, especially All Saint's Cathedral, the UWM Cultures and Communities Program Office as well as Dr. Phillips. Also, thanks to board member Jim Lerquin who did much of the room's physical construction! and Ron Khosla, creator of the Coolbot who has been crucial in answering our Coolbot questions.

Fresh Produce Preservation Project Update

The Fresh Produce Preservation Project (FPPP) was started in 2010. Milwaukee area food sources donated large amounts of extra produce and the Gathering staff and volunteers froze and preserved the produce to be used in winter meals. Since 2010, the FPPP has relied on many volunteers who have preserved approximately 5,938 pounds of corn, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, basil, bell peppers, apples, onions and more.

As someone who came into the project with a lot of interest but not a lot of answers, I am amazed when I think about all I have learned in my first year with the FPPP. From freezing, canning and food handling courses to practicing recipes and interacting with some really positive and motivating volunteers, it has been a year of real growth. In the off season this year, I have been lucky enough to meet with a lot of Milwaukee area food preservationists and food justice organizations. Everyone I have come in contact with has been supportive of the FPPP’s mission and has offered to circulate information or help with produce donations. Through these connections I hope to strengthen the project’s presence in Milwaukee as well as increase produce donations.

One particularly interesting connection the FPPP has made this year has been with the Cultures and Communities Program office at UW-Milwaukee, thanks to a Community-University Partnership grant. With this grant, the Gathering will be teaming up with Dr. Phillips (Program Coordinator of the Conservation and Environmental Sciences department) on a project entitled, “Practical Approaches to a Sustainable Future with the FPPP.” Through this project, twenty students will be growing their own produce in garden beds on campus. The students will then harvest the produce and, through a preservation session with The Gathering staff and volunteers, will preserve it and donate it to the FPPP where it will be used in winter meals.

Special Thanks to everyone who volunteered last season!