Attention has been focused on making sure these households have not only the calories they need, but healthy, nutritious food with emphasis on fresh produce. Imagine if produce currently left in the field or discarded as “overruns” could be redirected efficiently to those in need.
Food grown but not consumed also uses precious resources.
For example, according to a 2009 University of California-Davis study of romaine hearts growing in the central coast area of California, it takes 15 acre-inches of water — 407,000 gallons — plus more than 1,000 pounds of fertilizer and 30 man hours per acre. In a time of scarce resources, it’s requisite that we maximize the output of all our investments.
Amidst these converging issues, there are some innovative solutions.
In Florida, a consortium of growers called Farmers Feeding Florida delivered 59 million pounds of produce to refrigerated warehouses nationwide. Transportation is through the Florida Association of Food Banks or growers’ own equipment.
Another program, Farm Share, distributes an additional 21 million pounds to the hungry. In Salinas, Calif., Ag Against Hunger works with more than 50 growers to provide surplus produce to its food bank partners, and also features a gleaning program.
To some extent, the produce industry has ceded collection of surplus product at the fields and coolers to ad hoc and nonprofit groups.
Yet, the knowledge and experience in logistics and distribution reside within the industry — we are experts at moving product efficiently and effectively. Combined with the fact that produce is highly sought, this reality affords the produce industry with a real opportunity.
Growers and shippers should think about whether and how they can lend their expertise, distribution networks and on- and off-farm skill sets to play a part in the solution to food waste.
By doing so, the industry stands to improve its own efficiency, and — as the issue picks up steam among consumers — help position the industry in a positive light.
I am working on this issue with a small group from across the supply chain, including direct-to-consumer relief agencies.
If you are interested in joining me, please e-mail me.
Tim York is CEO of Salinas, Calif., Markon Cooperative, made up of eight North American foodservice distributors. Centerplate is a monthly column offering a peek at “what’s now and next” for foodservice and the implications for the produce industry.
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