Nothing says autumn in Cumberland more than Pumpkins for Poverty! I had the pleasure of attending the 6th annual event on Oct. 23, in downtown Amherst. Pumpkins for Poverty is the brainchild of Charlotte Ferguson of Empowering Beyond Barriers, an anti-poverty coalition in Cumberland. Charlotte says that the event has been growing in popularity and that each year they make a little more than the last. This year it brought in more than ever, raising over $800 in cash donations and a pick-up truck full of donated food goods.
Ferguson believes that Pumpkins for Poverty is not only a great way of raising needed funds and food donations for the local food bank, but it is also a way of celebrating and sharing the local bounty we have here in the County. She is always moved by the generosity and spirit of giving that our community demonstrates, even by those who do not have much themselves. Her reward for all the hard work is the smile on a child’s face when they get to pick a pumpkin to take home.
Here’s how it all works: The day prior, volunteers (including local youth from the Schools Plus after school program and the Linden 4H Club), pick pumpkins, squash and potatoes from Alder Meadow Farm in Lake Killarney. The following day, the produce is exchanged for donations of food or cash, with proceeds going to the Amherst Community Food Bank. For a $1 minimum donation, individuals receive a pumpkin, squash, or small bag of taters in return. Some of the produce went directly to local organizations, such as Maggie’s Place Family Resource Centre. (http://www.cumberlandnewsnow.com/News/Local/2015-09-21/article-4284455/A-bumper-crop-for-Maggie%26rsquo%3Bs-Place/1).
Event volunteer Karen Leblanc, of Maggie’s Place and Cumberland Food Action Network (CFAN) board member, stated that “food banks started up about 30 years ago in our community as a temporary measure, but have unfortunately come to be relied on as a staple”. Karen went on to say that “the need for food assistance has been growing and the food bank struggles to keep the shelves stocked”. She believes this is because more and more people are finding it hard to make ends meet, as the food bank has seen a rise in the number of working poor accessing it. When asked what she felt might be a solution to address this current reality, Leblanc stated that a living wage would go a long way to helping tackle the root of the problem. “People simply do not have enough income to stretch and food is unfortunately one of the first things that are sacrificed in order to meet other financial demands”.
According to Leblanc, the Pumpkins for Poverty project is also a great way of involving the wider community in helping one another. The relationship with the farm for example, makes important connections between area students and local farms. “For many of the youth involved in helping harvest the produce, it might be their first visit to a farm and this provides them the opportunity to learn about where food comes from”.
Janet Rose of Alder Meadow Farm explained that she and her family contribute produce for the fundraiser because “We just feel it is so important to give back to your community”. The farm grew extra potatoes, pumpkins and other squash this year to donate. They have been participating in the project for the past three years and have been trying to increase the amount and variety of food they are able to give each year.
When asked what they might do with the pumpkins they were taking home, I got some varied responses …everything from carving or decorating them for Halloween, to roasting pumpkins seeds, or pie making. I will be stuffing the butternut squash I got with rice, cranberries, walnuts and cheese, and baking it. For some great cooking with pumpkin and other local Fall produce recipes, please visit the CFAN website: (http://cumberlandfoodactionnetwork.ca/).
CFAN and other food security groups are calling for a Basic Income Guarantee, which would help address the problem of food insecurity in Canada. For more information on this concept, visit the Food Secure Canada website: http://campaign.foodsecurecanada.org/zero-hunger-canada
Happy Halloween Everyone, from the good folks of Cumberland County!
Blog by: Su Morin, Community Food Programmer, Our Food Project – Cumberland
Thanks to Frankie Jacobs for the featured photo.