You can call Kate Miller-Corcoran a vegetable nerd. It’s okay: She admits it.
Her favorite vegetable is spring turnips, but she can talk in-depth about all manner of food-plants, from the many things you can make with beets to how best to store your lettuce. As program coordinator for the VINES Binghamton Farm Share, she’s a bit of a fresh-food evangelist, hoping to get a bit of green – and red, yellow and purple — into everyone’s diet.
During an August distribution at the United Presbyterian Church in Binghamton, smiling volunteers distributed boxes filled with a colorful array of vegetables: eggplant, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, squash, lettuce and potatoes. It was a contrast to the beginning of the season, with its assortment of spring greens and, yes, turnips.
“It’s rainbow season, which is the best season of all,” said Miller-Corcoran, a two-time SUNY Broome alumna. “This is the part of the season when people get really excited.”
VINES stands for Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments, and the organization is committed to developing a sustainable community food system, ranging from community gardens and urban agriculture to youth programs and the farm share.
Farm share vegetables all come from local growers, within 60 miles of Binghamton, Miller-Corcoran explained. Participants who sign up for the program receive a box of vegetables each week, which they pick up at nine distribution locations throughout the City of Binghamton, Endicott, Johnson City and Whitney Point – mainly churches, schools and community centers that are easily reachable by residents.
Not only does the program support local farmers, it also gets area residents eating more fresh vegetables. This community-supported agriculture project also draws participants from all income levels; eligible households qualify for up to a 50 percent discount on their share each week, and the program also accepts SNAP as well as cash or check with bimonthly or weekly payment plans.
Currently, nearly 170 families take part in the farm share program.
“We started it to provide access to folks in our communities who don’t have easy access to grocery stores,” Miller-Corcoran explained.
VINES also provides member education, with weekly recipes, storage guides and workshops to help participants make the most of their share. At the August distribution site, a table sported a weekly trivia question: “Basil stores best in the fridge: true or false?”
Planting a seed at SUNY Broome
In some senses, it seems natural that Miller-Corcoran’s career is connected with food: She grew up on a dairy farm in Windsor, where her family has been farming for four generations.
She earned a Liberal Arts degree from SUNY Broome in 2000, followed by a bachelor’s in English from Penn State University and her Master’s of Arts in English from SUNY Cortland, and later returned to SUNY Broome for an Associate’s in Early Childhood Education in 2008.
Her career has taken interesting turns as well. She taught fourth grade in the Baltimore City School District, where she witnessed firsthand food insecurity and its effects on children and the surrounding community.
She and her husband, also a Penn State graduate and Southern Tier native, opted to return to the Broome County area.
After receiving her second SUNY Broome degree, she worked as a preschool teacher at the BC Center, the campus’ childcare facility, working with three-year-olds. A graduate of SUNY Broome Entrepreneurial Assistance Program, she also ran her own business – Magical Mama’s Cloth Diapering Service – for several years.
“I really loved going to Broome. It really instilled in me a sense of community I brought to this job,” said the proud Hornet alumna. “It’s a great school!”
She joined VINES as the farm share program coordinator in 2015. The farm share itself began in 2013 with 40 families and five sites; it’s grown significantly since then.
While it may seem far removed from her time in a classroom, her background in both education and as a small business owner have shaped her experience with her current career, she said.
“I use a lot of that education portion in doing this, knowing the different ways people learn and receive information,” she explained.
VINES continues to flower
Like any healthy plant, the Binghamton Farm Share continues to send its roots further out into the community.
Sign-up begins in March, with rolling enrollment, and donors are always welcome, Miller-Corcoran said. Next season, distributions sites will be added in Endicott and in Saratoga Apartments in Binghamton, and Miller-Corcoran has her eye on spreading to the more rural parts of the county, as well as additional urban spots. There is, after all, a great deal of need throughout Broome County, she said.
The program is also working with local healthcare providers to start a fruit and vegetable prescription program, through which people with diet-related diseases can receive vouchers for free vegetables, making it easier to eat well for their health.
“I want people to know that VINES is trying to make the Broome County area a better place and really to give people the tools to sustain themselves,” she said. “Our volunteers are part of our community. We’re trying to create community.”