The amazing collection of people and pieces that creates “Small Boats, Big Taste”

Dec 27, 2023 | Over the Bar

Over the Bar

Christopher Seufert photo

By John Pappalardo

Wrapping up another year, one of our many 2023 accomplishments shines as the calendar turns:

The success of the “Small Boats, Big Taste” program.

By year’s end we will have provided close to two million servings of Haddock Chowder and Provençal Fish Stew to food banks and pantries across Cape Cod and Massachusetts since the early days of COVID. Next month we’re adding a third great offering, Cape Cod clam chowder.

That so many people who could not otherwise afford local fish chowders and stews are feeding their families is a wonderful feeling. That every part of the team that makes this possible hails from Cape Cod and Massachusetts adds to the satisfaction.

One adage I like says that to truly appreciate something, think about how it came to be. So it goes with Small Boats, Big Taste:

Everything starts with the fish. We chose small haddock and skate as our staples, now adding sea clams. These are plentiful, sustainable species. While we wish all of it is harvested and landed on Cape Cod, a lot is and the rest comes from small boats working in and landing at Massachusetts ports.

Our haddock is turned into handsome small fillets at Great Eastern, a family-owned fish processor on the Boston waterfront. Our skate fillets come via Seatrade, on the New Bedford waterfront. Our clams come from local boats, processed right here in Chatham by Jesse Rose of Chatham Light Mussels.

Everything ships up to Lowell, where another family-run business, Plenus, makes our chowders and stew. Most of what Plenus creates fills 18-ounce containers, six to a case, fast-frozen. We also order what they call food service cases, two 8-pound sacks great for kitchens in assisted living facilities and schools that serve cafeteria-style.

Almost all of the 18-ounce containers ship to food banks and pantries across Massachusetts, from Springfield to Provincetown. The Greater Boston Food Bank acts as the ordering hub and are great partners. Just to give you an idea of scale, recent orders have been in the range of 25 pallets in a month. A pallet contains 130 6-pack cases. That’s close to 20,000 containers per month. For people who might be living in motels or other places without full kitchens, no big preparation is needed, just a hot plate or microwave to heat up chowder or stew and create a warm great bowl.

Every step of the way, people are paid fair wages and prices to make this work. Our goal was to help small-boat fishermen stay on the water as COVID struck while supporting several hundred jobs in the industry, from fish cutting and packing to transportation.

Our food bank partners, seeing more and more enthusiastic response, increased orders and used what’s called MEFAP, the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program, to start making direct purchases. Our legislators at the State House understand how important MEFAP funding remains, and because “Small Boats, Big Taste” is a Massachusetts-wide effort, spearheaded on Cape Cod, we have gained great support that keeps us moving forward.

Amazing as all that is, there’s more.

Working closely with the Barnstable County Extension Service, and the wonderful non-profit Cape Abilities, every week 100 food boxes are assembled by people at Cape Abilities, each filled with fresh produce and one of our chowders or stew. These are delivered to different Cape Cod sites each week, always to people facing food insecurity. This great program is funded through a federal grant that funnels through the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, administered by Barnstable County’s Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.  This Local Food Policy Assistance Cooperative Agreement will carry on at least another year.

All of this allows us to continue donating to local non-profits who provide so much support in our community. The list is long; the Family Pantry of Cape Cod, Cape Cod Veterans, Helping our Women, Cape Wellness, St. David’s Episcopal Church pantry. This is in addition to the Cape Cod Hunger Network, headed by the Family Pantry in Harwich, which receives lots of chowder and stew directly from The Greater Boston Food Bank.

Along the way, so many people and organizations have helped us put the pieces together. Chatham Fish & Lobster provides amazing support and distribution. Cape Cod Healthcare has offered funding over multiple years, understanding that better community health begins with better food. The Broad Reach Healthcare campus in Chatham has welcomed us into their community and kitchens. MIT Sea Grant played a crucial early role in getting us started and serving the MIT community.

I could go on and on, but there’s one more aspect I can’t forget:

Many of you have purchased chowder and stew directly from us here, and that support has been invaluable. So many have said that you not only like the effort, you love the food, and that warms my heart.

In the face of so many challenges that all of us have confronted in 2023, sometimes we all wonder how we can help, how we can contribute to a greater good and better place. When I’m in that state of mind, I think of Small Boats, Big Taste.

Here’s to more in 2024.

John Pappalardo, CEO

The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance


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