Duskie Estes of Healdsburg’s Farm to Pantry wins a North Bay Business Journal Nonprofit Leadership Award
Professional background: Chef, farmer, rancher
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in American history from Brown University
Number of staff: 1 FT (me) + 2 PT
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I am a chef, farmer, and rancher.
What is your role in the organization?
EVERYTHING. We are a tiny team. It’s a good thing like to wear a lot of hats.
How has your organization been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sadly, the need in our county has skyrocketed in our county with the pile on of the pandemic and the fires. People are saying 1 in 3 are facing food insecurity in our county. We are gleaning 200+ properties with 300+ volunteers. We have gleaned over 100,000 pounds of produce in 2020. That is 400,000 servings of immunity boosting fruits & vegetables.
What are the ways your organization responded to increased demands for services, and fiscally, in what has your organization been forced to adjust?
We had to shift our primary fundraiser to a virtual event. We had intended that to cover nearly half our annual budget, and a virtual event could not approach the same desired outcome.
Luckily individual donors have helped immensely to fill the gap and our local foundations like, the Community Foundation, Healdsburg Forever, Alliance Medical, Healthcare Foundation, Futures Project, United Way, Safeway, Bank of Marin, Rotary, Knights of Columbus, and others. You can support our efforts at www.farmtopantry.org Join our Cooking on Zoom series with Domenica of Catelli’s, Dustin of Valette, and Scott of Dry Creek Kitchen in November & December.
What achievement are you most proud of?
With Farm to Pantry – mobilizing 300+ volunteers and 200+ farmers to connect amazing produce with the increasing numbers of people facing food insecurity.
In my career as a chef – winning King+Queen of Pork, writing a James Beard Award winning cookbook, being on Food Network and other shows, the integrity of our commitment to sourcing directly – knowing the face that feeds you – owning the impact of our dollar
Physically – riding 300 miles for Chef’s Cycle for No Kid Hungry
I am most proud of my kids and my husband.
What is your biggest challenge today?
Unfortunately, the economic crisis will outlast this health crisis. We need to somehow continue this level of gleaning. We need to build the structure to support that.
What is the next major project either under way or on the horizon?
Adjusting Farm to Pantry’s structure to be able to maintain this level of gleaning.
What product or service would/or is helping you do your job more effectively?
Being able to afford a slightly bigger staff and the gas for more vehicles.
How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?
Sadly the impacts of the pandemic will continue to evolve. I am concerned about what will happen in the restaurant industry. Many jobs will be lost as many go out of business. The vineyard workers in our community have been hit hard by the non-harvest of the smoke tainted grapes this year.
And will farmers continue to plant food? At the same time, our nonprofits that help those in need are seeing a hard time in fundraising; many of them will not make it either. We are in this for the long haul. All we can do is make sure we tried to make it better for someone else every day.
Describe a fond memory you have about working with a staff member or client of your organization?
I was a chef of a Farm to Table restaurant in this county for 19 years. Only the lucky few got to enjoy the food we made because we were committed to souring ethically which put us out of some people’s range.
Now I get to see that incredible $6 peach in a farmers market end up on everybody’s table. This summer we were harvesting these amazing white nectar peaches at HomeFarm in Healdsburg. They were the kind of peach that is fragrant like flowers and the juice is so giving and refreshing. It was over a hundred degrees.
I took a box to a tent village run by Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa. I handed a box over and asked if they thought they would like another, if they thought they would consume it in the next 24 hours or so or I would take it elsewhere.
Over the fence, I heard their jubilant reponses, “Lady, lady those are the best peaches ever!” “I’ve never had such a good peach!” I loved that a peach can make a happy moment in everyone’s day no matter what their circumstance. It feels righteous to make good food access available to all. I felt good about that day’s work. I’m lucky to get that nearly every day.
What other community involvement would you like people to know about?
Bay Area Ranchers Co-op. www.bayarearanchers.com