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From field to community: Nonprofit distributes farm-fresh crops

Andrew Czerwonka from Burger's Farms hands a box of vegetables to Amanda Gordineer of Food Dignity.
Aimee Dilger
Andrew Czerwonka from Burger's Farms hands a box of vegetables to Amanda Gordineer of Food Dignity.

Collaboration is nothing new for the Burger family. They’re connected with farmers across Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania, a benefit that comes with five generations of tilling in Luzerne County.

“My grandmother’s grandfather had settled here in 1889,” Lenny Burger III said. He manages the family operation.

Crops cover about a third of the family’s 300 acres in Butler Township, he said. Once harvested, the produce is found at their market at 371 St. Johns Road in Drums from April through November. They carry items from nearby farms, too, Burger said.

“I know a lot of other very good growers, some better than I am, and that’s where I source a lot of stuff,” Burger said.

Purple cauliflower, apples, pears and dozens of pickled products were available last week at Burger’s market. They came from farm partners across Central Pennsylvania and mingled with the Burgers’ own crops – crates of red beets, fresh-picked corn, cabbages and various squashes. “It goes a lot better if you work together,” he said.

Since this spring, those locally-grown goods have gotten into more hands in the region, thanks to a new partnership.

A Luzerne County nonprofit called the Food Dignity Movement started buying Burger’s produce to distribute to about 20 community organizations. The group also runs a pay-what-you-can produce stand that pops up at various locations in Northeastern Pa.

Food Dignity promotes a simple idea. Everyone should have access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables, said Amanda Gordineer, a registered dietician and the organization’s director of food equity. She takes the food to nonprofit partners like shelters, recovery programs, universities and career centers. Food insecurity touches a wide range of people, she said.

By some estimates, more than 1.2 million Pennyslvanians, or 9.4% of the state’s population, were food insecure in 2021.

“By putting the food where they’re going already, we cut down that worry of having to go to a food pantry during a certain hour, get transportation there and get transportation home,” Gordineer said.

The organization isn’t looking for handouts from farmers and expects to pay full price for everything, she said. In addition to the Burger Farm, Food Dignity buys from Fullers Overlook Farm in Waverly, Lackawanna County; Rowlands Farm and TwoFold Farm in Wyoming County; and Clapper Family Beef, among others.

They aim to support small businesses, reduce food waste and improve access to healthy food options, Gordineer said. And earlier this month, their distribution program got a boost: a $36,000 award from Giant Food Stores.

From farm to stand and beyond

Gordineer drives to Burger’s Farm about twice a week and loads up Food Dignity’s refrigerated van with fruits and vegetables. She asks for whatever’s in season.

“So we transitioned fully into fall. We [have] more of the root vegetables now. We have sweet potatoes, some potatoes in the back, onions, apples are definitely in season,” she said, standing in the nearly loaded van. The Burgers won’t let you forget corn, she added. They brought out ten large mesh bags filled with corn.

Burger sees the benefit in this new collaboration.

“It helps everybody,” Burger said. “It helps the producers beyond me, and it helps the consumers beyond me. I’m just a piece of this puzzle.”

He understands it’s not easy for everyone to buy directly from farmers. Though by the time produce from larger, more commercial operations makes it to a grocery store, there have already been a few middlemen, he said. And quality can take a hit.

“But if you can shorten that gap between that plant and your mouth, it’s the best option,” Burger said.  

Danny Gomez does just that. He’s a former roofer, now a seasonal worker who harvests crops for the market. Last week, he cut fresh cabbage from the field for the Food Dignity pickup. He remembers chatting with another worker about their job.

“We’re happy because we’re planting and we’re cutting vegetables, but we know that it’s going to somebody that’s gonna enjoy it,” Gomez said. “We can’t believe we do all this… They eat it, you know, thanks to us.”

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's Morning Edition. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.