Food Bank of Delaware includes farming space in new downstate site
MILFORD, Del. — When the Food Bank of Delaware moved into a renovated building in Newark in 2019, it also embarked on a small farm to grow produce that goes to food-insecure families and provide outreach to the community.
“Once we moved in, we were like ‘This is everything we wanted it to be,’” said Chad Robinson, the food bank’s director of external affairs , of the site serving New Castle County.. “It makes sense on so many levels to engage folks, on the farm and have the food to use in the facility.”
Now, as construction on the food bank’s new site to serve Kent and Sussex counties progresses, food bank staff said having part of the 11.5-acre site devoted to growing food is bringing the same excitement.
About five acres of the site in Milford, Del., will be used for growing produce on outside plots and in four high tunnel greenhouses, Robinson said.
“It’s a blank canvas. It’s really exciting to see it start from scratch just like the building is and see all this potential to connect with the community and grow produce at the same time,” Kyle Brolis, director of agricultural programs said.
Like at the Newark site, the he food grown in Milford will be distributed to food insecure families through the food bank’s Healthy Pantry Center, used to educate students in its on-site culinary school and in a CSA program open to the public.
“It’s been a great way to have a venue, a space to educate and celebrate food,” Brolis said.
The Milford farm is part of a massive building project for the Food Bank of Delaware, increasing its downstate footprint five-fold. It includes a 67,000 square building with refrigerated loading docks, greatly expanded cold storage and warehouse space to distribute an additional 3.7 million pounds of fresh foods and 6 million pounds of nonperishable food and a 5,000-square-foot volunteer room.
“It’s really going to position us to serve the folks in Kent and Sussex the way we need to,” Robinson said.
The expanded cold storage space makes way for increased food donations from outside the food bank, Robinson added.
Along with using the produce grown on the site in its distribution channels, Robinson and Brolis, said the farm space will help the food bank attract volunteers and engage the public.
“It’s going to be the first thing you see when you come in the food bank,” Brolis said of the farm. “It kind of has the opportunity to be the flagship for the site.”
Brolis said relying on donations of fresh produce would leave gaps in the food bank’s services and growing some of their own offsets what the food bank would otherwise buy.
“Since we grow year-round, we can be a valuable asset in that respect,” he said.
Last year the Newark site grew about 17,000 pounds of food that went into food bank distribution, he said.
Volunteers are a crucial part of the food bank’s packing area, “but it’s not for everybody,” he said, so having the farm space appeals to another set of people who want to help.
“That piece has been exciting,” Robinson added. “It engages people which then allows us to tell them the rest of the story.”
The new site sits near the Boys and Girls’ Club of Delaware, Delaware Veterans Home and Delaware Hospice and the farmed area and an accessible memorial garden is intended to be a source of education or respite to those groups.
Robinson said the food bank has needed the expansion for years.
The current Milford location, a 16,000 square foot building across the street from the new site, is operating at 163-percent capacity. It has to rent additional space for its pantry center and had to cut programming due to lack of space, according to the food bank.
The need for more space was there well before the COVID-19 pandemic, Robinson added and in the time since, need has only increased. In 2019, the food bank distributed 8.6 million pounds of food and this year it projects to distribute 18 million pounds.
“We’re serving more people now than we were at the height of the pandemic,” Robinson said. “This is just going to allow us to do so much more downstate.”
The parcel for the new complex was purchased in 2021 with a groundbreaking in August 2022.
The new site is expected to be completed in the fall, Robinson said, with the food bank using it for distribution by Thanksgiving.