The Skinny Pancake is launching a new initiative called the ShiftMeals GrowTeam in response to Vermont’s increasing food insecurity related to the COVID-19 pandemic. An extension of their ShiftMeals community meals program, ShiftMeals GrowTeam invites unemployed restaurant workers and others to cultivate a series of “Victory Farms” this growing season in collaboration with several farm-partners.

Beginning this week, the restaurant group will be hiring 15 people to work on three farms across Vermont. This new initiative will directly contribute to increased food production within the state and inspire other farmers and individuals to do the same.

The Skinny Pancake Founder/Owner, Benjy Adler, explains: “As a restaurant group with locations throughout Vermont, we have an upfront view of this economic crisis and feel a strong sense of responsibility to participate in creating civic solutions alongside the good work of our State government and non-profit community.”

The Skinny Pancake launched ShiftMeals, dubbed “a local food response to COVID-19,” back in March as a partnership with Vermont Community Foundation, High Meadows Fund and the Intervale Center. To date, the program has produced over 21,000 meals for distribution through participating restaurants, community centers and Vermont Foodbank partners.

The development of the ShiftMeals GrowTeam began on April 3rd in response to increased understanding of the lengthy economic impact that would result from the COVID-19 pandemic. Describing his inspiration, Adler says, “Every level of government is projecting budgetary shortfalls. There is likely to be vastly more economic need than government alone can sustain for the coming year. We need self-sufficient civic responses alongside government support. Now is the time to team up, grow food, and support one another. ”

Just in time for planting season, The Skinny Pancake will be employing 15 new hires this week to launch the program on three farms: Vermont Youth Conservation Corps in Richmond, Vermont Community Garden Network in Burlington and Center for Grassroots Organizing in Marshfield. The program’s early pool of applicants has included many out of work restaurant workers as well as high school and college students whose plans for summer work at camps or restaurants have been derailed.

This initial four week effort will help establish gardens and farms that will be shared with additional volunteers throughout the summer. In exchange for a commitment of approximately 8 hours a week, volunteers will secure a share of produce for themselves in what the ShiftMeals team calls ‘a reciprocal food economy.’ Additional food surplus beyond the needs of the participants will be donated to the charitable food system.

Jean Hamilton, ShiftMeals Project Director, explains “The response from the farming community has been great. We’d been consulting with farmers and food system experts across the state before finding the model we’re launching today. This inaugural group of non-profit farm partners demonstrated the shared mission and capacity to workshop the program development with us. Every day we have conversations with new partners and we encourage more farms to contact us and join the effort in the weeks to come.”

Susie Walsh Daloz from VYCC says, “The ShiftMeals GrowTeam is helping us further our mission of putting young people to work on Vermont working lands, even as COVID-19 has disrupted our core programming. It’s great to see The Skinny Pancake adapt to this crisis with creative community-based local food solutions.”

“As a restaurant, our social contract with the community is not only about employing and feeding people, but also providing part of the social safety net,” Benjy Adler says. “By launching ShiftMeals and now GrowTeam, we achieve that goal. We’re eager to see this program grow and help support other communities across the state and beyond.”

If you or someone you know has viable farm land to share, or if you’re interested in participating as a volunteer, please contact ShiftMeals@SkinnyPancake.com.

About ShiftMeals: ShiftMeals is a community meals program spearheaded by The Skinny Pancake in partnership with High Meadows Fund, Vermont Community Foundation and the Intervale Center. To date, the program has produced and distributed over 20,000 meals. The program is funded through individual, corporate and philanthropic donations. To learn more, visit www.shiftmeals.org.

About The Skinny Pancake: Originating as a Church Street Marketplace vendor cart in 2003, the Skinny Pancake currently has 10 brick and mortar locations across Vermont and New Hampshire. Their fast casual creperie restaurant concept with a deep commitment to local sourcing. In addition to providing food and beverage, the Skinny Pancake celebrates their communities and practices philanthropic capitalism through their proud membership of 1% For the Planet. To learn more, visit www.skinnypancake.com