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AFC’s Homegrown Foodways Film Premiere: REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors through Community Food Equity

The following is a guest post by folklorists Claire Denny and Sally Van de Water of the Division of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Arts Institute of Middlesex County, New Jersey. The AFC’s Homegrown Foodways in Central New Jersey film series is a collaboration with Van de Water, Denny, and colleagues at the Division of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Arts Institute of Middlesex County. Read the introductory post about the film series here, and watch the first film in the series here, and second film here.

As part of our collaboration on the Homegrown Foodways in Central New Jersey film series, today is the premiere of the series’ final film, REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors through Community Food Equity, which you can watch in the player above or on the Library’s YouTube channel.

REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors brings viewers into the world of community food banks and food pantries, sharing the ways in which organizations, staff, and volunteers serve and strengthen their neighborhoods through food distribution and access to social services, such as housing support, job searches, health care, and more. This film also takes a deeper look at Middlesex County’s Share Your Foodways program, detailing its inception during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the film shows, REPLENISH (Instagram: @we_replenish) connects more than 160 food pantry partners throughout Middlesex County. The REPLENISH warehouse is open five days a week to provide these grassroots organizations with food, social service resources, and connections to other staff and volunteers with similar goals. In 2021, serving a population of just under 850,000 people, REPLENISH received and distributed over 4.7 million pounds of food, including fresh produce, dairy, and meat products.

A REPLENISH tent with food items during the pandemic

Tent located outside of the REPLENISH warehouse, used to house food for food pantries to select from. The tent was erected as a temporary solution to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure pantries could pickup food safely. Photographed by Claire Denny on July 20th, 2022.

As described by Jennifer Apostol, longtime employee and Director of REPLENISH, the hub of the REPLENISH “wheel” has a number of supporting spokes. With the warehouse at the center, six categories of support activities make REPLENISH the vibrant network it is: food acquisition; food distribution; resource dissemination; awareness raising; education; food access/accessibility; and policy change and advocacy. Each category is comprised of a range of  partners serving their own mission, including schools and community organizations, religious groups, Farms to Families, and Famers Against Hunger, SNAP benefits, and local government. The County’s Extension Agency’s Master Gardener program operates Rows for the Hungry, a volunteer-led production garden that generates fresh in-season produce for distribution through REPLENISH. As we discuss below, Share Your Foodways supports the food access and equity category of REPLENISH’s efforts.

As someone who has been with REPLENISH since its early days, Apostol has seen the power of community and collaboration at work, and encourages anyone interested in fighting food insecurity in their neighborhood to volunteer at a local food pantry. Indeed, Apostol made it clear that the work of REPLENISH would not be possible without the assistance of the workers and volunteers who have dedicated their time, energy, and talents to help nourish their neighbors for over 26 years.

RELENISH’s tagline, “nourishing neighbors,” is meant quite literally: though food remains at the center of REPLENISH partner activities, each of these partner agencies aim to do more. Food pantries who partner with REPLENISH benefit from the organization’s dedication to education and social services in addition to food distribution. They supply their partners with networking opportunities, resource sharing tools, and nutritional guidelines for clients. On a broader level, they are dedicated advocates for programs and policies intended to combat both food insecurity and poverty. When an individual enters a pantry, they encounter an environment aimed at addressing the needs of the person through a holistic lens.

A Share Your Foodways foodkit up close

A Share Your Foodways kit, assembled at the REPLENISH warehouse. The kits contain all the ingredients necessary to create the recipe card included in each kit. Photographed by Claire Denny on July 19th, 2022.

The film features interviews with several staff at Unity Square Community Center, which is just one of the REPLENISH partner agencies that nourishes neighbors. Located in a former firehouse in the heart of New Brunswick, Unity Square serves its community through food distribution, housing support, arts and family activities, computer access, health and vision clinics, pro bono legal advice, a community garden, and teen programs, among other activities. At the time of filming, in July 2022, Unity Square was developing a “Client Choice Resource Center:” a grocery store-style food distribution area where residents may select the items that appeal most to them rather than being given a set supply of foodstuffs. This community mainstay works with residents to determine their local needs and meet them whenever possible.

In the words of another REPLENISH partner, Elijah’s Promise, “Food Changes Lives.” We took this idea to heart when developing the Share Your Foodways initiative in early 2020. In recognizing the escalating need for food, personal protective equipment, and job security, staff at the Arts Institute of Middlesex County used our resources to develop outdoor murals, first responder appreciation displays, and online programming.

Folklorist Sally Van de Water interviewing during the making of the film


Behind the scenes: Sally Van de Water (right) interviews Jennifer Hinton (left), Director of the Unity Square Community Center in New Brunswick, NJ. Photographed by Claire Denny on July 20th, 2022.

Within the Division of Folklife and Cultural Heritage, our conversation quickly turned to food. Share Your Foodways developed from the simple question: “how can we use folklife to address food equity and food security?” As detailed in the film, Share Your Foodways celebrates the food traditions of Central New Jersey while providing local families access to recipes and ingredients that reflect their needs and cultures. In an online series, community cooks share their foodways traditions through video tutorials, printable recipe cards, and chef bios, which are made available in both English and Spanish. One hundred food kits for each tutorial, along with a bilingual, laminated recipe card, are given free to families through REPLENISH’s network of partner pantries.

At their core, food and folklife are intertwined. Community and individual health of all kinds directly connect to food security. Access to food affects every aspect of our lives, not only basic nutrition but also mental health, school and activity engagement, as well as job performance. Share Your Foodways began with three goals in mind: to celebrate the vibrant foodways of Central New Jersey; to destigmatize the use of food pantries; and to feed people. To date, 500 recipe kits have been distributed to local families, with several more videos still in production and more to be filmed.

To watch the cooking tutorials, learn about additional Share Your Foodways guest cooks, and how you can support REPLENISH, visit the program’s webpage. Share Your Foodways is produced by the Division of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Arts Institute of Middlesex County, with support from the Middlesex County Board of County Commissioners, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the AFC through this film series collaboration. We hope you enjoy the film!

AFC’s Homegrown Foodways Film Premiere: Multigenerational Ukrainian Foodways with Roman Kovbasniuk

As part of the AFC’s Homegrown Foodways in Central New Jersey film series, this blog premieres the film “Multigenerational Ukrainian Foodways with Roman Kovbasniuk,” which honors New Jersey’s vibrant Ukrainian communities and their rich foodways traditions. Watch it in this blog post, or on the Library’s YouTube channel!

AFC’s Homegrown Foodways Film Premiere: Afghan Food and Women’s Empowerment with Nasrin Rafiq

The following is a guest post by folklorist Sally Van de Water, Folklife Programs Manager, Division of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Arts Institute of Middlesex County, New Jersey. The AFC’s Homegrown Foodways in Central New Jersey film series is a collaboration with Van de Water and colleagues at the Division of Folklife and […]

Announcing the AFC’s 2022 Homegrown Foodways in Central New Jersey Film Series

The following is a guest post by folklorist Sally Van de Water, Folklife Programs Manager, Division of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Arts Institute of Middlesex County, New Jersey. The post introduces AFC’s Homegrown Foodways in Central New Jersey film series, a collaboration with Van de Water and colleagues at the Division of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Arts Institute of Middlesex County.

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Tlacuatzin Son Huasteco from Mexico

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Tlacuatzin Son Huasteco, a trio playing one of the traditional music styles of eastern Mexico, known as son huasteco or huapango music; As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Son huasteco music is built around two variants of the guitar, the jarana and the quinta huapanguera, as well as the violin and the voice. Son huasteco singing employs a distinctive falsetto style. Improvisation plays a strong role in this music, with each group adding their own lyrics and arrangements to a standard repertoire of songs. The result is acoustic string-band music that is both traditional and contemporary, with direct emotional appeal.

Homegrown Plus Premiere: The Armagh Rhymers’ Music and Rhyme from Ireland

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with The Armagh Rhymers, one of the most celebrated traditional music and theatre ensembles on the island of Ireland. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Vigüela’s Traditional Song and Music from Central Spain

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Vigüela, a a traditional folk quintet with a commitment to the rural musical traditions of central Spain. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Vigüela was established in the mid-1980s, after the Franco regime, by young people who looked to folk culture for a way to channel their creative desires while staying rooted in their local communities. Grounded in this history, the band members value their tradition and perform it with accuracy and energy, as a living music, full of joy. They play traditional Spanish music, including jotas, seguidillas, fandangos, and sones, using the centuries-old singing styles, dialects, and instruments of their region. That region is Castilla-La Mancha, the southern part of the Iberian plateau, sometimes called “the heart of Spain,” or “Don Quixote country.”

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Wuza Wuza Music and Dance Ensemble from Ghana

This week our Homegrown Plus Premiere series continues with Wuza Wuza, a music and dance performance company featuring Ghanaian artists deeply invested in the expression of African traditions and cultures. Following the standard for this series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Homegrown Plus Premiere: WÖR’s Folk and Early Music from Belgium

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with WÖR, a band of five musicians from Belgium whose curiosity and passion lead them to research old Flemish music and present it in vibrant contemporary arrangements. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Janusz Prusinowski Kompania’s Progressive Village Music from Poland

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Janusz Prusinowski Kompania, a quartet that plays rural music of Polish villages on fiddles, flutes, accordions, and other traditional instruments.  As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!