From Farm to Food Pantry: Prochotsky '16 Launches Pop-Up Produce Stands
Sept. 24, 2014
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Just like seedlings, an idea to get more fresh food onto the dinner
plates of local residents has matured and yielded a bountiful harvest.
Illinois Wesleyan University student Jenny Prochotsky ’16 (Libertyville, Ill.) has
organized a gleaning project to distribute free fresh produce at pop-up produce stands
in west Bloomington. So far more than 3,000 pounds of unsold produce has been collected
from the Downtown Bloomington Association Farmers Market and distributed through the
generosity of farmers and the efforts of dozens of volunteers.
Prochotsky is the most recent of several Illinois Wesleyan students studying food
justice issues and organizing initiatives to address those issues in the community.
Through Illinois Wesleyan’s Action Research Center and the Community Partnership Program (CPP), Prochotsky worked at State Farm and
interned two days per week this summer at the West Bloomington Revitalization Project (WBRP).
Previous CPP interns had conducted research on west Bloomington’s food desert, generally
considered to be any geographic area where affordable and nutritious food is difficult
to obtain, particularly for those without access to a car.
“After studying food justice issues at Illinois Wesleyan, I was interested in putting
a real-life framework to the topic by speaking to people who live in the experience,”
said Prochotsky. So one Thursday afternoon in June, Prochotsky wandered the streets
of west Bloomington, scanning the offerings in stores and talking to people at bus
stops about how often they went shopping for groceries, where they went, and the obstacles
they faced in getting what they wanted.
“Much of the research I collected wasn’t surprising,” Prochotsky said. “If you can
only get to Wal-Mart every two weeks, you’re not going to buy the fresh spinach that
goes bad in a few days. You’re going to buy the shelf-stable food.”
As a biology major planning to become a physician, Prochotsky was disturbed that affordable fresh
food wasn’t readily available to west-side residents. National research links diet-related
health problems in populations living in food deserts.
Prochotsky decided making fresh food available to local residents would yield dual
results. Residents would get fresh food, and Prochotsky would continue to gather first-hand
information. Guided by Action Research Center Program Coordinator Deborah Halperin,
Prochotsky set up the first pop-up stand with produce from the IWU Peace Garden within
24 hours of deciding to try the idea.
Prochotsky then approached the coordinator of the Downtown Bloomington Association
Farmers Market. Volunteers had gleaned at the market in previous years, so farmers
were familiar with the idea of gathering the unsold produce and were happy to participate.
Prochotsky said she quickly discovered how much time and energy gleaning requires,
and said that without the help of many volunteers, the project would have died on
the vine. Prochotsky and Halperin created an online sign-up mechanism, which passed
to, among others, faculty members at Illinois State University, the owners of Green
Top Grocery, Illinois Wesleyan alumni and the CSA of PrairiErth Farm in Atlanta, Ill.
The volunteer network now both efficiently gleans and distributes the food.
The location of the weekly pop-up stands is announced on Facebook in the Farm to Food
Pantry group. Locations have ranged from churches and community gardens to parks and
even neighborhood garage sales. At several locations, neighbors have dropped off their
extra produce. So far more than 700 people have received fresh food.
Previous initiatives and research conducted by Illinois Wesleyan interns before her
allowed Prochotsky to “hit the ground running” when her CPP internship began this
Alex Kim ’13 built a Veggie Bike in 2012 to transport vegetables from the IWU Peace
Garden; Farm to Food Pantry volunteers use it regularly. Volunteers with the IWU Peace
Garden, founded in 2012, have supplied produce and helped with the project. Daniel
Burke ’09 worked to have Electronic Benefits Transfers accepted at the Downtown Bloomington
Unlike fields lying fallow under winter’s snow, the project will stay active past
harvest. Prochotsky is weeding through the information she continues to gather as
part of the research project, and she and Halperin are identifying grants or other
opportunities for funding to expand the project.
“I’ve learned so much about connecting, whether that’s by listening to people and
their needs or figuring out how to connect to people with skills I don’t have,” said
Prochotsky. “At ARC we’re taught that community development is never about what you want to do and forcing your ideas on others, but more about listening to the needs
of the community and letting the community guide you to a way to address those needs.”