Fishery project to fuel pantries with rich protein

When Patti Habeck and Justin Lubin got to talking about feeding the hungry, they quickly realized their organizations’ missions were aligned.

Habeck, executive vice president of Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, says that one conversation has blossomed into an innovative partnership with the nonprofit food bank and Lubin’s start-up organization Blue Planet that blurs the distinction between philanthropy and for-profit business.

Photo caption: A facility like this one will produce trout and salmon through a zero-pollution, zero-contaminent process which will supply food pantries with a new source of protein. Photo by Blue Planet

Thanks to donors’ generous gifts to the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs, the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, in collaboration with the Basic Needs Giving Partnership, is supporting planning for the two organizations’ sustainable protein project, which could feed thousands of low-income families with fish.

The project -- still in the planning stages -- will consist of building a facility to produce more than 500,000 pounds of fresh trout and salmon each year, with 100,000 pounds to be distributed through food banks in eastern Wisconsin. The rest would be sold to restaurants, grocers and other markets to support the fishery.

The partnership solves the challenge each organization faced: For Feeding America, providing a steady supply of healthy proteins to food pantries, meal programs and emergency shelters in the region; For Blue Planet, finding a way to distribute a new source of healthy, sustainable food to the region.

“It’s one of the most difficult forms of proteins for food banks to access, yet it’s one of the most important proteins for children from low-income backgrounds to have access to,” says Habeck.

Trout and salmon are especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which research shows have a significant effect on brain development before birth and during early childhood, but also improve physical, mental, educational and emotional health outcomes.
Habeck says despite the positive health effects, fresh fish makes up less than 2 percent of food bank proteins.

The fresh fish will be introduced through meal sites, where the fish will be prepared properly by chefs and trained staff. Eventually, families who have developed a taste through the meal sites, will be able to access fresh fish through pantries.

Habeck knows of no other program like this in the country.

“It’s a new model for us in how we can get charitable food into the food banks. It’s an experiment in many ways,” says Habeck. “There no reason why this model can’t work for other types of food, too, so it’s exciting to think of the future this way.”

U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs
    Proceeds from the U.S. Venture Open (Aug. 12, 2015) help fund the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs. Thanks to donor support to the Fund, and matching grants from the J. J. Keller Foundation, OACF has granted out a total $1.9 million to programs and projects that benefit people in Winnebago, Green Lake and Waushara counties.

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