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    Healthy Food for Hungry People

    April 23, 2011 •  no comments.

     •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

    Written by Lynette Johnson is Tennessee Regional Director for the Society of St. Andrew

    When you’re choosing peaches in the grocery store, do you ever marvel at how they’re all the same size and shape, how the colors are so perfectly matched from one to the next, how there aren’t any blemishes or spots on them? And then, do you ever wonder about how that happens? I mean, really, is that the way peaches grow?

    American consumers expect the freshest and the best, ideal fruits and vegetables, not too ripe, not too tender, and definitely pretty. (Tell the truth, don’t you even pick through those peaches in the display to make your selection?) And the USDA has grading standards that shape our expectations for peaches and for every other type of produce we buy.

    But peaches (and every other fruit or vegetable), outside of supermarkets, aren’t nearly so similar or so perfect. What happens to the rest of them?

    More than 96 billion pounds of food goes to waste every year in this country. And that’s pre-consumer waste! We’re not talking about the kale I bought, but didn’t use, that’s slowly turning to mush in the crisper of my refrigerator. This is produce that never even gets to the grocery store. It is food left unharvested in fields or graded out in packing houses. It is mislabeled, mispackaged, or misdirected in shipping. Ultimately, it becomes fodder for livestock, it’s plowed under or is left to rot in landfills.

    There’s a high environmental cost for all of this, of course. There’s the water and energy used in growing and harvesting that are wasted, and then there’s the greenhouse gases produced as all that produce rots away. Every ton of food rotting in a landfill produces emissions equivalent to driving a car for a year[i].

    But the impact is much more than environmental. While all this fresh, nutrient rich produce is going to waste, 50 million Americans will face food hardship this year; 44 million Americans now receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits. And these struggling neighbors of ours are turning to non-profits for food assistance, even as non-profit budgets have been pruned, pared, and puréed. Feeding America™ affiliates and thousands of other food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, emergency food programs, senior and child nutrition programs, etc. across the country are struggling to find nutritious food to serve their clients.

    Somebody ought to do something. Somebody ought to connect the dots. Somebody ought to find a way to recover some of that staggering quantity of produce that’s being wasted and move it to agencies feeding people at risk for hunger.

    Somebody is. A lot of people are, actually.

    The Society of St. Andrew has, in fact, been doing just that since 1979. Recovering produce in 35 states and distributing it in 48, over the last 32 years we’ve recovered 622 million pounds of fruits and vegetables (1.866 billion servings) that we’ve always provided free of charge and always in quantities that can be used quickly and without waste to agencies serving people in need. In 2010 alone, we recovered and distributed 28.1 million pounds of produce—that’s roughly equivalent to four football fields, piled four feet high with fruits and vegetables!

    Our Potato and Produce Project works to secure large-load (28,000-45,000 pound) donations by networking with trucking companies, packing houses, warehousers, and distributors. We’ll move these loads to areas where they’re most needed, distributing them either through large food banks or through volunteer-intensive ‘crop drops’, in which the load is ‘dropped’ at a central location and quickly parceled out to many partner agencies nearby.

    The Gleaning Network connects farmers and growers with volunteers in their immediate area who enter fields and orchards to ‘glean’ (pick, gather, or dig) produce remaining after harvest. Produce is taken immediately to nearby agencies for their use, creating a rapid, local farm-to-fork cycle that is often complete in 72 hours or less, as gleaned produce is served at table in a feeding program or distributed in food boxes through a local food pantry. This effective, efficient grassroots, neighbor-to-neighbor program, with its community sharing model, mobilized 31,000 volunteers in 2010 and provided 54.3 million servings of food.

    Everything that the Society of St. Andrew does is a ‘win’ for the community and the country, in both the short and the long terms:

    • Farmers share what they cannot sell—and their on-farm food waste is reduced. Their hauling and composting costs go down, and they get a receipt for their donations that helps them on their taxes next year.
    • Volunteers glean—and grow community spirit. They work together and achieve measurable results that make a real difference in the lives of people nearby. Even people who are in need can join in gleaning, doing what they can to help themselves and to help others.
    • Receiving agencies get good, nutritious food at no cost—and that frees more of their limited budget funds to acquire and serve critical proteins to their clients, too—a double benefit!—enhancing the nutritional quality of what they provide even more.
    • Hungry people—men, women, and children—eat better foods. They are healthier, less at risk for diseases, and better able to function, because their bodies are nourished.
    • The state, covering health care costs for many of the poor, benefits by spending less for health services as nutrition improves. Emergency hospitalizations decline; obesity declines; diseases related to poor nutrition decline; child health improves; prenatal outcomes improve; and children attend school more often and perform better while they’re there.
    • Landfills are less burdened, and the environment is less taxed as food is eaten rather than trashed.

    Other organizations all across the country are waking up to the challenges of recovering food waste to feed the hungry. If you’re interested in being part of a growing movement, see if there’s an organization already at work in your community and join their efforts. If you’d like to find out more about the Society of St. Andrew, visit our website, www.endhunger.org, and consider partnering with us.

    An NPR feature about the Society of St. Andrew’s Gleaning Network

    To learn more about food waste in the United States, see Jonathan Bloom’s Wasted Food blog.

    To learn more about gleaning (and who’s doing it), read the USDA’s pamphlet, Let’s Glean.

    To find a food pantry near your home that will accept fresh produce from your tree or garden, visit Ample Harvest.

    Lynette Johnson is Tennessee Regional Director for the Society of St. Andrew. Follow her on Twitter @SoSATN.

    [i] “[The UK’s Waste Resources and Action Programme] revealed before Christmas that about 6.7 million tonnes of food a year is dumped in bins. This represents a third of all food bought for consumption at home and is worth a total of £8 billion, or an average £400 for every household. However, by preventing this scale of food waste about 15 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year would be saved, the equivalent of taking one in five cars off the roads.” (emphasis added) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article3701660.ece

    31,035,791 cars on road in Britain (2009) ::: 1/5 cars = 6,207,158 cars http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1264282/Number-cars-road-falls-time-Second-World-War.html

    6.7 million metric tonnes of food waste reduction is equivalent to removing 6.2 million cars from road

    [Metric tonne conversion to US ton: 1 metric to .907184 US]

    6.1 million US tons of food waste reduction is equivalent to removing 6.2 million cars from road

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