COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Maggie Griffin had the perfect plan to introduce farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to students in Columbus schools who can’t otherwise get them.
Her vision was so inspirational that she won Ohio State University’s $100,000 President’s Prize to implement it.
But translating her plan from research to reality necessitated nimbleness.
“I had this perfect vision in my head of how things were going to go, but when you start serving the community and people, it has to change,” she said.
WCPO profiled Griffin, a Madeira native and graduate of Madeira High School, after she won the highly competitive grant in November 2016.
Her plan was to grow fresh produce to feed 60 families in five Columbus public schools where students have little access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Want to help Griffin expand her produce program? Visit the Unity Fridge Facebook page here to donate.
She planned to farm land on OSU's Waterman Farm and set up a distribution network through five public schools, buying refrigerators for each school to store food.
But Griffin quickly pivoted to try to reach whole families rather than just children.
Instead of going through schools, she and her team regularly give away their food at three charities:
She and volunteers from the charities harvest food once a week, set up a table and give it away the same day.
Just shy of eight months after winning her grant, Griffin has just harvested her 200th pound of food from the one-third acre she farms.
“It’s going better than I expected,” she said.
Shifting from a plan hatched in a classroom to working with real clients has taught Griffin that the problem of many low-income residents not eating enough healthy food is about more than lack of access to markets that sell it.
Some clients had never seen produce like kohlrabi and had no experience cooking vegetables like kale. So Griffin, volunteers and mentors like Anna Stewart, OSU field education coordinator, started doing cooking demonstrations and handing out recipes.
The biggest hits so far? Kale pesto served on good bread and roasted kohlrabi.
Pesto tastes great with just about any greens, she said. Kohlrabi, which is a starchy vegetable, looks a lot like a potato when it’s peeled and cooked. That felt familiar enough for people to try it, Griffin said.
She’s grown to realize that changing people’s eating habits is a much more complex challenge than making fresh produce available.
“You have this idea of what the issues are in your head and what the research tells you. To see it in person and see the real issues has really expanded my understanding,” Griffin said. “I originally did think it was an issue of access but I realized that it was a larger more complicated issue."
So Griffin is moving forward with trial and error to see what works.
“We’re hoping to have community nights where we bring people to the farms. We’re trying to set one up,” she said. “Some people are more eager to take the produce than others.”
Still, the progress she’s made has been invigorating, and Griffin is looking to move into public schools in the fall. A big chunk of her grant was going to go into refrigerators for the schools, so she’s trying to get them donated.
And Griffin is working on securing more grants to continue the program beyond one year. She said continuing the program will be less expensive at this level of production going forward since she’s already bought a lot of the equipment to start it up.
“I didn’t think it would be fair if I were to do this for a year and drop it,” she said.