The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst chatted on Jan. 14 with Rick Bella, president and chief executive officer of Fresh Hope Produce, Valparaiso, Ind. Read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.
Bella in 2010 legally established Fresh Hope Produce, a charity designed to distribute surplus fruits and vegetables to hunger relief charities and food banks. Bella spent 10 years at Feeding America (formerly known as America’s Second Harvest), from 1999 to 2009, and then briefly worked for Oklahoma City-based Feed the Children before that group closed its seven-member Chicago division.
3 p.m. Tom Karst: I liked the look of your website. Tell me about Fresh Hope Produce and what you are trying to accomplish.
3:01 p.m. Rick Bella: We just got it launched last week. I want the website to be informative and also functional for hunger relief agencies to come there, get information about produce that is available, what the costs are to them and how they can participate.
3:04 p.m. Karst: How does putting together this charity look on your end?
3:05 p.m. Bella: I’ve been working with a number of growers and shippers who would like to participate and some have actually funded the formation of the website, with expenses paid for by anonymous donors. They just feel that they always have surplus produce for a variety of reasons, weather-related or market-related. There is always extra produce — it is just the way we grow product in America.
3:07 p.m. Karst: For somebody who doesn’t know how this works, explain what happens when somebody has produce they would like to donate. How do you take it from there?
3:08 Bella: A great example would be a surplus of potatoes. With spring time coming soon, it is time (for potato shippers) to clear out the sheds and get the equipment ready for planting for fall harvest. So those sheds have to be empty no matter what. Some of those potatoes would just be taken out to the fields and plowed into the ground, which is a shame. In a case like that, a grower who has excess produce at the end of the season can contact us. Say they have 40 loads of potatoes they would like to donate. At that point, I would start negotiating with them on what would it take to get the potatoes washed and bagged. The fundraising effort would go all towards covering those additional expenses in further processing, similar to what we did before in Second Harvest. The farmer can’t afford to put the money into the crop because he never sold it.
3:14 p.m. Karst: You have done a lot of work already. What do your next couple of months look like?
3:15 p.m. Bella: The next two months will be basically marketing and fundraising and the outreach to various agencies to get them vetted, get them in the system, educate them about how to use the website and what they can do. The next step now is to get it up and running.
I don’t want to do this for two truckloads a month. I want to do this for hundreds of millions of pounds per year. I want to make a difference.