How MAP Grows Produce for Its Friday Food Program

Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) is an organization that works on food policy in Buffalo and grows their own local, natural produce on an urban farm to sell to the community. During MAP’s summer youth program, produce grown by the organization is used in a meal for its workers every Friday. 

For example, we once made a Mediterranean-themed meal with chicken gyro, hummus, pita bread, taziki and lemon thyme cake. This food goes through several steps to get from being planted to being consumed by MAP employees.

First, the food must be grown. The majority of food produced by MAP is grown on Massachusetts Avenue at their urban farm. On Breckenridge, MAP has a youth garden where additionally produce is grown. The produce grown in the garden, which maintained year-round, is chosen by youth employees during MAP’s school year program. This produce is not for sale to the public, so our meals on Friday try to incorporate as much food from the garden as possible. In July, for example, food we harvested from the garden included lettuce, garlic, green beans, and Swiss chard, as well as herbs such as basil, cilantro, dill and thyme.

Next, produce grown in the garden is incorporated into summer lunches on Fridays. My position this summer, Farm to Table Specialist, evaluates what is ready to harvest and what can be used for meals. Produce needs to be mature enough to be picked, and there also needs to be enough of it ready for harvest to create a meal. MAP typically serves 50-60 people at Friday lunches, so there needs to be enough food to go around. Once the garden is evaluated, we also find out what is available to buy from MAP’s Mobile Market. The Mobile Market is MAP’s works like a food truck – they drive to a few locations and sell fresh produce from the farm and other local Buffalo farms. Once the Farm to Table specialists know what produce is available for the week, we work with the youth employees to find recipes that use as much MAP-grown food as possible.

Each meal we create needs to have five different components: protein, grain, salad, side, and dessert. When choosing recipes we also look for meals that will appeal to a large audience and does not include many outside ingredients. Another contributing factor is that the ingredients are in season. It is important that all the food is in season because they will be fresher and less expensive.

After we have decided upon the recipes, the Farm to Table specialists harvest the produce necessary from the youth garden. We weigh the amount of each type of produce that is harvested to keep track of how much we have. For food that is not grown in the garden, it is purchased from the Mobile Market or the grocery store. A goal of the lunches on Friday is to spend as little money as possible on ingredients. Using as much produce harvested from the garden as we can and buying the rest of the ingredients in season helps achieve this.

The last step in this process is preparing the meal on Friday. Food preparation begins at 9:00AM on Friday. MAP’s Farm to Table specialists, as well as MAP’s youth employees, and Chef Bobby Anderson from F Bites work in the kitchen to prepare the meal. A few people are assigned to a recipe for each component of the meal. Each group works at a station for their portion of the meal. We gather ingredients and go over our recipe. While cooking, groups can get assistance and advice from their co-workers and Chef Bobby. Once all the food is prepared, the employees that prepared the food set up a serving table and serve the meal to the other MAP employees and guests in attendance. Once everybody has been served, we enjoy a meal together.

As you can see, MAP’s food goes through a many steps in order to eventually be eaten in a lunch on Friday. As a Farm to Table Specialist, I get to understand the different steps, and make sure everything goes to plan. Getting the food through this process involves the cooperation of many different departments and employees.

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