Every year at our Farmland Feast, we usually have a farmer as our keynote speaker. This year, we decided to try something a little different. We asked Steve Badt, Senior Director of Meals and Volunteer Engagement at Miriam’s Kitchen, one of our gleaning partners, to speak about the profound impact FRESHFARM Markets farmers have had on his clients. Below are his remarks.
Thank you Mark for your generous introduction, but back at you. Toigo Orchards is a perfect example of what makes the great meals at Miriam’s Kitchen possible, and what makes our greater vision to End Chronic Homelessness in Washington, DC possible.
Recently Toigo donated 600 pounds of awesome peaches. The volunteers at Miriam’s made peach sauce, peach pie, peach fruit smoothies and yes, simply offered our guests a beautiful local peach. This is just one example of the incredible weekly donations from farmers that Miriam’s Kitchen receives. Barajas Produce, Quaker Valley Orchards and others are just as generous. Thank you!
That is what I want to emphasize tonight. FRESHFARM Markets and its farmers make it possible for Miriam’s to prepare a healthy, delicious breakfast or dinner for less than $1 per guest for the 300 guests who come into Miriam’s for a meal every weekday. A meal that might look like this seasonal spread: squash and bison lasagna, garlic bread, vegetable salad, kale-fruit smoothies and apple cake.
We are not serving bologna sandwiches.
Some items might be initially be mocked — like the kale fruit smoothies. But this is what happens. A quarter of the guests will try the kale smoothies the first time and then they will say to their friends, “Damn, you should try this. It’s great.” And the next time, half the guests take it, and later most.
I grew up with a mom born and raised in Italy. She had a massive garden in New Jersey, one that I was forced to work as little kid. And though I hated work when I was little, I quickly appreciated how all the fresh ingredients came together to make a delicious meal. It is the approach the chefs at Miriam’s take. My fellow chefs at Miriam’s, John Murphy and Emily Hagel, are here as well. The meals they come up with out of the donated basket of ingredients is incredible. Ask them.
Last year, Miriam’s received $20,000 worth of ingredients from gleaning from the farmers. That’s a big basket to work from.
I have been at Miriam’s for 12 years and for 8 of those years we have been gleaning from the Foggy Bottom market. I love how close the market is to Miriam’s because the farmers see our guests – the people they are helping feed. When you can look into the eyes of someone in need and you know you are going to have a direct impact, it is powerful.
It was and is because of gleaning from farmers markets that we have been able to transform a stereotypical feeding program away from canned, frozen, processed ingredients and generally unhealthy meals towards what one could find in a good restaurant. What does it take? Great fresh ingredients and careful preparation by hundreds of rocking volunteers. It’s not brain surgery, as a fellow chef once told me.
But this is why volunteers come over and over again. Because when they step into the kitchen they receive a brief hello and thanks, very brief. Then the chef on duty barks out orders. “We are going to make that vegetable lasagna. Get moving and go through the bounty the farmers donated.” The volunteers get energized. I call it good stress.
And here is the most important part. Our guests in the dining room also get energized by the meal they are getting. They’re energized by seeing the stressed out volunteers working their tails off to make the meal that day. They’re energized by seeing, smelling and later tasting the incredible local vegetables. It feels like what a home should feel like. In fact, one of the biggest compliments I often get is that someone outside on the street, a guest or passerby, comments on how great it smells. That it smells like a kitchen should smell. Like mom’s kitchen.
Imagine what it is like for you, when you are feeling sick or simply having a bad day, to wake up or come home to a homemade meal made with love and care. It makes you feel better, physical and emotionally. But it is more than a meal at Miriam’s. At Miriam’s that meal starts the process of creating meaningful change in their lives.
Miriam’s Kitchen emphasizes three things in everything it does: dignity, belonging and change. A person coming to our dining room will feel DIGNITY in the quality meals and services he or she finds, a sense of BELONGING with other guests, volunteers and staff; and a tireless commitment to CHANGE — to replace the temporary home we create at Miriam’s for a few hours each day with a permanent home.
Because that is the Vision Miriam’s has: to End Chronic Homelessness, to get those who have been on the streets for months or even years into a home – no matter what issue they are dealing with. Miriam’s will help provide the support to keep them housed successfully.
We are going to work our butts off to guide our guests home. In fact, 15 of our guests have been placed in housing already this year. And without the support or FRESHFARM Markets and the farmers that would not be possible. Great food is the start, nourishing the mind and body – home is the ultimate goal.
Thank you FRESHFARM Markets for making this possible.