The new governor highlights food insecurity, and helps hand out some chowder and stew

Jan 25, 2023 | Aids to Navigation, News

Gov. Maura Healey looks on as Lt. Gov Kim Driscoll and Dave Ferraresi hand a client Provencal Fish Stew.

By Doreen Leggett

Maura Healey and Kim Driscoll – days from becoming Governor Healey and Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll — joined a line of volunteers dishing up chicken, rice and lentils, Brussels sprouts and more lovingly-prepared food. It was all boxed and delivered to waiting cars in the parking lot of the former Riverway restaurant in South Yarmouth.

The governor-elect walked out orders to those who had contacted the Family Table Collaborative in need of a healthy meal. Driscoll, often accompanying her, carried containers of Haddock Chowder or Provencal Fish Stew in a January rain.

“Everywhere I go in Massachusetts, I see the same thing — communities coming together to lift everyone up. That’s what we’ve always done, and it’s what our administration will work to do, too,” Healey said.

Part of Healey’s “Team Up Massachusetts” regional service events, this was an auspicious 2023 beginning for the Small Boats, Big Taste program launched with the haddock chowder in 2020, adding fish stew (filled with skate) in 2021.

The idea was born out of Covid as way to provide people with food insecurity a delicious, nutritious meal and to keep fishermen on the water.

More than 1.5 million servings of the creamy, haddock-filled chowder and the zesty, tomato-based stew have been supplied to food pantries across the state and beyond. The Family Table Collaborative is one of many partners, including the Cape Cod Family Pantry and the Greater Boston Food Bank, that the Fishermen’s Alliance will continue to work with this year.

The amount of haddock chowder and skate stew being distributed across the Cape will expand significantly next month through a grant administered by Barnstable County’s Extension Service that will combine fresh local produce assembled by Cape Abilities in Dennis with chowder and stew for 100 homes a week.

Fans of the chowder and stew will also be able to purchase at their favorite local retailer this spring.

“This year is shaping up to be a wonderful one for Small Boats, Big Taste,” said Seth Rolbein, who heads up the program for the Fishermen’s Alliance. “It’s hard to believe that just a few people sitting around the Fishermen’s Alliance’s office came up with the idea and made it happen with support from Catch Together and our valuable partners, Great Eastern Seafood and Plenus Food Group.

“But with delicious, sustainable seafood harvested by small-boat fishermen who define our coastal communities at the heart of the product – the taste, and the story, is unbeatable.”

Audrey Adamson, who has had a long career in the food and agriculture business in Washington D.C., moved to the Cape recently after summering here for years. She volunteered to help take Small Boats, Big Taste into the retail market. Success there will help sustain the donations.

“I thought it was an interesting program because it fed people and also raised the price of fish early in the Covid pandemic. It is super local, sustainable and Cape Codders tend to try to take care of Cape Codders,” she said.

Adamson, who operates A2 Strategies, a food and agricultural legislative and regulatory consulting firm, said the initial response from local, community-minded markets has been tremendous. She said the Fishermen’s Alliance is a known and respected brand, as is Chatham Fish & Lobster which will deliver the stew and chowder to local retailers.

“We are helping fishing communities and the community that eats,” she said.

Adamson said since the pandemic we have seen the collapse of the supply chain, which has increased the value of local and regional food systems.

“On the Cape, the particularly strong suit is seafood, so working with independent local markets to bolster the regional food supply is a positive,” she said.

The retail component is designed to make Small Boats, Big Taste self-supporting and increase demand for local products.

“The big hope is we continue building demand for local fish,” said Rolbein. “Whatever we can do to avoid the scenario of skates being winged and thrown into container boxes bound for another continent is good.”

Struggles with the supply chain, combined with a growing number of people who are food insecure, underscore the importance of the county’s grant, Cape Land and Sea: Cultivating Diverse Food Systems and Communities, said Andrea Marczely, food access coordinator at Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

“To be able to come in at this time, and in this economy, and be able to give out local produce and great seafood product is wonderful,” she said.

Marczely said the program, which launches in February, involves a range of partners, including Health Ministries USA, Buy Fresh Buy Local Cape Cod and Cape Verdean Museum and Cultural Center.

The hub of the wheel is Cape Abilities, a non-profit providing services to individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. Each week, grant funds will allow Cape Abilities to buy produce from local farms. The 100 bags of produce, augmented by vegetables from Cape Abilities’ own farm, will be distributed with a container of haddock chowder or Provencal Fish Stew.

In addition, chowder and stew in larger containers will be made available for communal kitchens serving cafeteria-style.

“Cape Abilities clients will be learning how local food can solve community problems,” the grant said. “Cape Abilities will be a food access hub that supports local and regional growers throughout the year and is a reliable source of healthy food for underserved communities.”

Marczely said this grant builds on a successful program that last year only involved produce. Adding a healthy, local protein that clients may not have been able to afford otherwise is another win.

“Being able to bring awareness of what is available on Cape is also important,” she said.

Tara Racine, program coordinator of Buy Fresh Buy Local Cape Cod, a program of Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, said the grant is a great opportunity to highlight Cape Cod’s “world-class” seafood and the fishermen who catch it.

“Consumers can taste the difference in quality when eating local fresh-caught and fresh-frozen (flash frozen) seafood instead of big box store fish that has travelled thousands of miles, often over international borders, to get to our dinner plates. Local seafood travels short distances and is much more environmentally friendly because of the much smaller carbon footprint,” she said.

Supporting commercial fishermen also strengthens coastal communities.

“When consumers purchase from local fishermen, they are supporting their neighbors and small-boat family businesses,” Racine added. “More of each dollar remains and circulates throughout the community. When you support local fishermen you are helping to create more local jobs.”

The county’s grant from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources is sister to another one received by the Greater Boston Food Bank. That grant allows the food bank to purchase more haddock chowder and fish stew. Grants like these are indications the United States Department of Agriculture better understands the importance of having individual states strengthen local food systems rather than a one-size-fits-all approach from the federal government. USDA food procurement historically has supported meat and poultry production, not small-boat fishing communities.

“The hope is people will really like the chowder and stew, as well as realize it is a great alternative to hamburger and chicken wings,” Rolbein said.


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