From the Ellsworth American, April 7, 2017

Produce from the tree of lifeBLUE HILL — Last year the Tree of Life Food Pantry distributed 12,000 pounds of fresh produce to hungry families. The fresh food was purchased from Good Shepherd Food Bank and directly from local farms with the help of a grant from Maine Farmland Trust.

Donations of fresh produce were also made by local farmers and gardeners, local businesses and gleaners.

This year the Tree of Life no longer qualifies for the Maine Farmland Trust grant, and so the organization is seeking individual donors willing to give money dedicated to buying local vegetables, said Tree of Life President Judi Hilliker.

“We want to continue and hopefully expand our fresh produce program and local donations would make a big difference,” she said.

Fresh produce donation forms will be available at local farm stands and farmers markets. Donations may also be made at

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is the best way to improve health and combat problems like obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

However, because it is expensive and perishable, fresh produce is often out of reach for many low-income families, said Hilliker. In the past, food pantry shelves were stocked entirely with canned goods and other inexpensive shelf-stable foods such as cereal, macaroni and cheese, pasta, rice and beans. Although the Tree of Life still offers some of those products, the organization is working to offer more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and dairy, she explained.

“The food pantry now offers potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, bananas and apples every week,” Hilliker said. “We offer greens like kale and chard, squash, beets, turnips, peppers, cabbage and other seasonal vegetables as available. Tasting samples and recipes help our pantry patrons use these fresh, and sometimes unfamiliar, foods.”

The food pantry also encourages people to grow some of their own fresh food by giving out seeds and bedding plants in the spring. The 2016 home gardening projects were made possible with seed packet donations from local businesses, a grant from the Brooklin Garden Club and seedlings from the Blue Hill Farming Artists. A similar gardening program is planned for this spring.

For the past three years grants from Maine Farmland Trust enabled the food pantry to purchase produce from local farms. In 2016, thanks to this grant money and additional donations, $10,344 was spent buying local produce. Local providers included Horsepower Farm, King Hill Farm, Old Ackley Farm, Misty Morning Farm and North Branch Farm.