The amazing success of “Small Boats, Big Taste”

Feb 21, 2023 | Over the Bar

Over the Bar

Christopher Seufert photo

By John Pappalardo

When we launched our “Small Boats, Big Taste” program soon after COVID struck, we had clear goals but no idea if we could realize them:

  • Help independent small-boat fishermen and the fishing industry navigate past the pandemic’s new barriers.
  • Feed growing numbers of people facing food insecurity that comes when money shrinks.
  • Build local demand for local fish and keep it going and growing after start-up philanthropic support ends.

We’re a couple of years in now, making haddock chowder and skate stew by the boatload and truckload, and lo and behold something remarkable (even beautiful) is happening.

It’s working.

It’s working because an amazing array of people and organizations have pitched in, allowing us to build a functioning, multifaceted network and infrastructure:

Fishermen have stayed on the water doing what they do best, keeping the American seafood market vital.

Great Eastern, an independent family-owned fish processing company on the pier in Boston, has created beautiful haddock fillets from whole fish for chowder. In phase two, Seatrade on the New Bedford waterfront has added skate for stew.

Plenus, also independent and family-owned in Lowell, has made brilliant chowders and stews using recipes inspired by Alex Hay, Wellfleet Shellfish Company.

The Greater Boston Food Bank has coordinated orders and deliveries to food banks and pantries all over the state. Believe it or not, we have sent almost two million servings of chowder and stew to people who otherwise could not afford to eat great local fish.

State legislators have voted time and again to include food assistance funding in the annual Massachusetts budget, which helps pay for food bank purchases.

Chatham Fish & Lobster, Sam Bradford at the helm, has helped with every conceivable logistic, from delivery to storage to retail and wholesale outreach.

Cape Cod Healthcare Foundation understands that better nutrition leads to better health and has funded our efforts to reach a broad Cape community.

Broad Reach Health Care in Chatham, under Bill Bogdanovich’s stewardship, has made it possible for fishermen to bring chowder to people living at Liberty Commons, share stories and food, expand our sense of community.

The Cape Cod Food Pantry, Chris Menard its stalwart leader, has been shoulder to shoulder with us even before Small Boats started, sending people home with fillets, scallop bits, chowder and stew for the family.

St. David’s Episcopal Church is always ready to go with their regular distribution to many mid-Cape people, thanks to Richard Banks facilitating. Many others do the same, for example Helping our Women and the Wellfleet food kitchen. The Family Table Collaborative, Jeni Wheeler in charge, has been a great new addition.

MIT Sea Grant, with steadfast engagement from Rob Vincent, has helped with everything from brainstorming to funding and outreach. That includes helping get our chowder and stew into the MIT Dining Service for students, faculty and staff, thanks to their director Mark Hayes.

Just a few weeks ago, we started another extraordinary collaborative effort: With great leadership from Barnstable County’s Andrea Marczely, food access coordinator for the Cooperative Extension, we are partnering with CapeAbilities to deliver 100 boxes of food to people all over Cape Cod every single week. Fresh produce will come from CapeAbilities and their local farm network; we’ll supply chowder and stew. We’ll also start delivering to the Faith Family Kitchen in Hyannis, a wonderful service run by the Cape Cod Council of Churches.

I could go on with testimonials and partnerships, believe me. I could also dive into efforts to build retail and wholesale contacts so people can walk into local markets and grab some fine Small Boat, Big Taste chowder and stew for dinner. That’s happening too.

But I don’t mean this to be like one of those speeches people make at rubber chicken dinners. I just want everyone to understand that whenever I mention “us,” I don’t mean just the extended family who works here at the Alliance to make great things happen. I mean “us,” the community that coalesces over and over, contributing, partnering, making each part of the whole stronger and more effective.

To paraphrase an old cartoon, “Themz is us.” Or even better, “Youz is us.”

John Pappalardo is CEO of Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance


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