Karen Zielke has become an expert in the market rate for produce.
“Lately the lettuce that comes from California is so expensive, $50 a case,” Zielke says, reaching into a box of spinach.
That’s what happens when you spend more than $1,000 a month on vegetables.
Karen and her husband, Mike, are the founders of Chuluota Free Vegetable Distribution. a grassroots effort to help their community.
Twice a month, the couple creates up a pop-up farmers market in front of VFW Post 10139 in Chuluota.
“Would you like some spinach?” Zielke asked one of the nearly 70 people who make their way to the fresh vegetable food bank.
With, boxes and bags of vegetables spread out on folding tables, everyone kept their distance as they made their way in an orderly line that spans the length of the building. “We usually have seven or eight kinds,” Zielke said about the selection. “We got the idea from a news report.”
Last spring, the Zielkes sat home like many of us. Businesses and government offices were closed, many were out of work.
They watched as news reports explained how the closed restaurants meant many farms couldn’t sell their crops.
“That gave us an idea that we could go there and help them by purchasing some of the food they couldn’t sell,” Mike Zielke said. “Then we can bring it back into our community and distribute it to the people that need it.”
The Zielkes made their way to Long and Scott Farms in Mount Dora where they bought the vegetables for the first giveaway.
“It’s something we thought would be very short term,” Mike Zielke said. “But it’s really the community that has done this.”
Donations are accepted at each event. The Zielkes have managed to bring in enough each week to keep the program going.
Local farms are out of season but the Zielkes still buy from local distributors.
Tyler Embree has been out of work for more than a month. Friends suggested he stop by the Chuluota food bank.
“I didn’t expect all this,” Embree said. “I was expecting small bags of stuff, not them to absolutely load me up with food.”
Sherri Kincaid filled her bag with green beans and carrots. She said the COVID-19 shutdowns have affected her household income. “My kids have not been working,” Kincaid said. “Fresh produce is very expensive and this is helping a lot of families be able to provide fresh veggies for their families.”
Volunteer, Nancy McKenna, who is also Karen Zielke’s sister nominated them for the News 6 Getting Results Award. “They needed to be recognized because it’s been going on for so long,” McKenna said. “They’ve done it out of the goodness of their heart.”
The Zielkes say they’ll keep doing the give away as long as there’s a need. They say they’ve even considered creating a permanent food pantry in the Chuluota area.