We spoke with Danielle Piraino, our newly appointed Produce Programs Coordinator, to learn more about her role here at The Food Group and her passion for working within the food system. Danielle’s history with us began in 2017 as a farmer training intern with MFA (Minnesota Food Association), she then transitioned into delivering the CSA for Big River Farms up until last June. Since then she shifted into our Produce Programs as an assistant, and now, the coordinator. Before moving to Minnesota, she was living in Vermont, finishing college and farming in the summers on small-scale veggie farms.
What does the Produce Programs Coordinator do at The Food Group?
The easiest way to describe what I do is by saying my work is the bridge between regional farm fields and the food bank. I grow food, glean food from farms, and rescue food from the farmers market with a small team. An offshoot of that work is spending time with people in the community, whether it’s the community gardeners that grow food next to the micro-farm at TFG, volunteers, farmers, food shelf agency staff, or other food systems colleagues in the Twin Cities.
What do you like most about your role?
Often, sustainable food system work and hunger relief work are considered at-odds. Consequentially, hunger relief is seen as the Band-Aid, and deep food systems change as the prescription for the deeper issue. However, what I like most about my job is changing that perception about the two concepts being at odds. Produce Programs work is a direct link between doing both immediate hunger relief, at the same time as focusing on re-building a sustainable food system. A few ways we do this are by supporting our local farms financially whenever possible, building relationships with growers in the area, by listening to the cultural food needs of the food shelves, and by sharing food in the community garden. I like being in both worlds, and I like seeing them as one when I can.
What has the experience with the Community Garden been like?
The community garden that TFG manages is in front of our warehouse and office space in New Hope, alongside the micro-farm. The community garden is a very vibrant and abundant place, both socially and ecologically. Located in a rather industrial area, the gardens provide important pollinator habitat, carbon sequestering plants, and organic veggies. We’re located on the edge of an industrial park and a suburban neighborhood, and the majority of the 40 gardeners live within walking distance of the garden. Authentic community building is available and rich, while just spending a few hours working on the micro-farm. Children of gardeners are playing, trying herbs, learning new things. Elder farmers are teaching me ways to hoe like they did on farms in their countries of origin, we’re trading plants that we’ve each never tried before, and eating ice-cream together. We have a long waiting list for the community garden, which is telling that the Twin Cities suburbs community gardens are in need. This year, we expanded our community garden space and decreased our micro-farm space, because the importance of family-scale land access in our neighborhood felt very important, and asked for by our community, many of which come from agricultural backgrounds from their home countries.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities gleaning produce or working on the micro-farm take a look at our Produce Programs page. You can also follow our Gleaning group page on Facebook for updates.
This post was written by Talia Miracle, Community Relations Associate, and Danielle Piraino, Produce Programs Coordinator.