By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
EDMESTON – For Pathfinder Village CEO Paul Landers, the “secret sauce” in Pathfinder Produce boxes isn’t the recipes, or even the fresh produce.
It’s the notes the workers tuck inside.
“Each delivery comes with a ‘feel-good card’ that our individuals make,” said Hannah Baulch, ADS coordinator. “And it makes them feel good to write them.”
“I always get voicemails from people telling us those notes make their day,” said Landers. “It’s a message of hope, of love. With our residents, one of the greatest qualities they have to share is joy.”
Pathfinder Produce and The Mobile Market, a micro-business of Pathfinder Village, Inc., has received the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Breakthrough Business of the Year from the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a business with a mission,” said Landers. “Our primary goal is always to find employment opportunity for our folks, but this isn’t just a job. They’re serving their community, and they feel that every time they do this work.”
The produce delivery service started three years ago, when Pathfinder Village realized there was a need in the area – a “food desert” – for fresh produce.
“We hijacked the concept that healthy food delivery services like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh pioneered,” said Landers. “But we brought a feel-good quality to it.”
Every week, five employees – all Pathfinder Village residents – sort and pack 120 bags of produce for one, two or three people in a household – and deliver them, Tuesday through Friday, to low-income families, free of charge.
“We wanted to reach families who just don’t cook, but instead buy frozen food or go through the drive-thru,” said Landers.
Baulch said as many as 300 people a week eat the fresh produce delivered to their door.
“It’s about improving rural health outcomes,” she said. “To have something like this that’s accessible, where we can go out and get people these fruits and vegetables, we can help them improve their health.”
And for the Pathfinder residents packing the food, it helps them too. “They improve
their social skills, fine motor skills, and they learn about their own health,” she said. “They’re impacting people in their community.”
Though much of the produce is ordered from Sodexo, the food-service company, Pathfinder Village does run several greenhouses, growing and harvesting lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and more.
“It takes a lot of time to harvest, and moreso now with COVID,” said Baulch. “But it’s great for the residents.”
Landers knew that food without education would go to waste, and every week “Chef Eric,” as he’s known around the Village, researches and creates new recipes to pack with the produce so that families can try different ways of preparing their food.
“He found a role for himself, a pride and purpose,” said Landers.
Others, like Andrew, make short work of packing bags for deliver. “He’ll pack at least 50 bags,” said Baulch. “He loves going into the cooler, following the list and packing it all carefully so the soft items are on the top.”
“They are always ready to come into work,” said Landers. “You never have to drag them!”