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Cultivate moves food rescue into new 11,000 square foot facility

NOW: Cultivate moves food rescue into new 11,000 square foot facility

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Cultivate, a local food rescue organization, all started as a culinary school operating out of a former restaurant in Bremen.

Now, the food rescue is growing and it has moved its operations into a new 11,000 square foot warehouse space on Prairie Avenue in South Bend.

“It really does increase our capacity to do what we think will be 1,000 backpacks in the fall,” said Cultivate co-founder Jim Conklin, adding that currently, the organization provides about 600 backpacks per week to local students.

Conklin founded the organization with executive chef Randy Z.

Cultivate started its backpack program in the fall of 2018 with just 120 students served per week. Conklin said the goal of 1000, while large, is achievable for the growing nonprofit.

The organization now employs six full-time employees and two part-time employees. In 2019, over 1,000 people volunteered for Cultivate.

The new space features an industrial kitchen where meals will be processed and a kitchen meant to revamp the group’s original culinary program that will serve local aspiring chefs. A meal package sealer machine can process up to 1,500 meals per hour.

“We’re really taking food that’s been made by mostly catering companies. Catering companies by nature have to overproduce, so we take that food and we freeze that," Conklin said.

Once the rescued food is brought to Cultivate’s facility, it’s weighed by volunteers by category, like meats and starches. It’s then refrigerated.

“Volunteers then put it into our three compartment container, which is a protein, a vegetable and a starch. We then freeze it,” Conklin said. “We’re basically adding six months of life to something that only has about seven days of life.”

Six meals are then packed into each backpack for students at nine elementary schools in Elkhart, St. Joseph and Marshall counties to take home for the weekend.

“The school system is feeding these children Monday through Friday but Saturday and Sunday, there’s a gap so what happens Monday morning is kids come in hungry and they can’t focus, their behavior may be a little off and it impacts their academic performance,” Conklin said.

Cultivate works with Title I schools that have large concentrations of students from low-income families and don’t necessarily have access to food over the weekend.

Conklin said the team was able to move big machinery over to the new space over the winter break, which kept them in operation and did not disrupt food service to students.

Cultivate bought the Prairie Avenue building in January of 2019 and just a year later, in early January of 2020, the team began moving in and setting up shop. The facility will be in full operational mode in about a week.

On the organization’s future to-do list: a community garden in the city-owned field next door and re-launching their culinary school.

Recently, Cultivate was one of multiple nonprofits selected by the University of Notre Dame’s first-ever Philanthropy Lab course to receive a grant.

The course, which ran in the fall of 2019, allowed undergraduate students the opportunity to learn about local Michiana nonprofits and decide who to grant funds to.

Cultivate fit what they were looking.

“They solve two problems. They solve food waste, they stop food from being thrown into a landfill and they help end child hunger. They take that food, they freeze it, they give it to these students, these kids who might not have a meal over the weekend and when I think about the impact of that, it’s just amazing,” said course instructor Jonathan Hannah.

Cultivate received $20,000 from the class and will use it to directly provide backpacks full of food to local students.

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