Shagbark Seed & Mill is a brand and processing facility and distribution network business dedicated to the Athens region's organic bean and grain food system.
Starting Shagbark meant building connections with other businesses passionate about food resiliency and food security within the Athens area. Brandon Jaeger, co-owner and operational manager of Shagbark Seed & Mill, said the business makes an effort to seek out new opportunities among not only businesses but local farmers and food producers as well.
“We've really opened people's eyes and minds to the possibilities about how they can be sustaining themselves and their families on crops and crop lands in their region by pushing the boundaries of local food into a much more calorie- and protein-rich, shelf-stable segment of staple seed crops,” Jaeger said.
At the end of August, Shagbark donated 400 pounds of organic heirloom corn polenta to area food access programs in Athens. Some of these programs include Community Food Initiatives and Chauncey Library.
Within Athens, CFI is a donation-based nonprofit organization, and it has been working with Shagbark in order to foster areas where everyone has equitable access to healthy, local food. Reggie Morrow, donation station coordinator for Community Food Initiatives, said with the help of local businesses and their donation of local, organic products, CFI is able to distribute donations out to its partners. Then, CFI's partners are able to ship the food to its recipients.
“When Shagbark donates, then we're able to share that local business’ product with people who typically don't have the money or the access to their food,” Morrow said. “Eating healthy can be expensive … It can be pricey and out of range for a lot of people around here.”
Alongside CFI, Chauncey Library has been working with Shagbark to share donations with Athens as well. Tessa Evanosky, youth services librarian at Chauncey Library, said the library has done many food donations out of its blessing boxes.
Within the blessing boxes are bags of polenta accompanied by a recipe card, which makes it easier for people to figure out how to cook the polenta.
“We love it when people donate food,” Evanosky said. “However, this is a time of year when people have a lot of produce and stuff that isn't looking so great — not very fresh. Those are the things that are really hard when people drop off because we don't really have a way to keep it fresh for folks.”
Evanosky said canned food, Hamburger Helper and other shelf foods have proven to be helpful due to large quantities of food insecurity happening with people out of work due to COVID-19.
There are many ways people in Athens can help through CFI, Chauncey Library and other local businesses, including participating in projects like Rural Action’s Neighbor Loaves & Meals.
Jaeger said Shagbark works hard to prioritize working with local farmers and other family-owned Ohio businesses. Working with local people and businesses cultivates closer relationships and helps build a stronger economy. Now, with 125 pounds of polenta left, Shagbark is looking for businesses involved in food access to donate it.
“The efforts that Shagbark goes to make (Athens) a good place to work and to pay people well, I think, is very important in a local economy,” Jaeger said.