I had the chance to chat on Jan. 14 with Rick Bella, president and chief executive officer of Fresh Hope Produce, Valparaiso, Ind.
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 ten 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.
3:00 p.m. 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. 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.
3:02 p.m. Karst: Do you have a certain network of agencies identified?
3:02 p.m. Bella: I want to have a broad net, so I'm going to send out invitation letters to mega-churches around the country, hunger relief charities of any type and also to food banks across the country. Feeding America works with about 200 food banks around the country, but there is a lot more than that. There is probably another 150 or so of similar-sized food banks. I want to reach out to all of those too. This is a way to expand the program that I really started 10 years ago. I look at this as going to the next level, to offer produce to 50,000 different charities in partial truckloads, shared loads and to offer produce to other nontraditional feeding areas like the churches.
3:04 p.m. Karst: How does putting together this charity look on your end? Obviously, a lot of knowledge and intelligence about how the industry works. How do you connect all the dots when you are creating something like this?
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. We are always going to have that. They of course view this as an outlet and a way to do something good with their surplus produce.
3:07 p.m. Karst: For somebody that 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 p.m. 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.
3:08 p.m. Karst: As far as transportation, would that be covered by the receiving agency?
3:09 p.m. Bella: Hopefully funding would be able to assist us in funding transportation costs too.
3:09 p.m. Karst: Relative to the need for this service, do you feel like it fills a niche that other groups don’t fill?
3:10 pm Bella: There are food banks out there that because of cost, lack of dollars to transport, or other reasons don’t take fresh produce. Hopefully with fundraising efforts we can knock down barriers and help more hunger relief charities.
3:11 p.m. Karst: How does the fund raising part go? Is there a particular model you are following?
3:11 p.m. Bella: I would like 70% of the funding to come from the community. What I would like to do is put together a house party kit that I would send to anyone who is interested in hosting a party to launch Fresh Hope Produce. They can see the website with their dinner guests, they can talk about hunger issues and nutrition issues in the country. I would like them to make them to make a commitment to provide so much per month to Fresh Hope Produce to help change the situation in America. The other funding I would like to come from foundations and also corporate America.
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.