February 2, 2009

So fresh and so free

This year, Bread for the City is going where we’ve never gone before. To the fields!

As part of our still new nutrition initiative, we’re striving to include fresh produce in every bag of groceries we provide to our low-income clients. It adds up to a lot of produce, which, of course, is way more expensive than the typical canned fruits and vegetables we provide.

So I’ve been exploring ways to get our produce for free. It’s not an easy task, but actually, that’s not because of scarcity. Free fresh produce is out there, we just have to get it to our pantry.

Within an hour’s drive of our city, literally tons of fresh fruits and vegetables will be grown this year that will never make it to market for one reason or another. (For instance, major supermarkets turn away curvy cucumbers since they don’t stack well. But for the record, curvy cucumbers are still delicious!) In a country where about half of all food grown is wasted, the gap between the field and the market is where a shockingly large amount of the loss occurs.

I don’t blame the farmers for this. Many are committed to ensuring that their excess food goes to those in need. And from my experience in calling hundreds of farmers to find produce for our pantry, I learned that among those who are not already donating their surplus, most are delighted at the idea of using this food to feed the hungry. The reason they have not been doing it all along typically is that when food won’t sell on the market, they do not have the resources to harvest, box, and deliver it to charities like Bread for the City.

So this year, we’re planning a new kind of community involvement: trips to the farm. Consider this post the first seed, so to speak, that I’m planting to get you to start thinking about your day in the fields, enjoying the fresh air and collecting crops to feed DC’s poor. Maybe you can organize a group of friends for a day of gleaning, or maybe you can solicit your workplace, gym, local hang-out, or place of worship to do the same. Perhaps your child’s school wants to do it as a day of summer fun so that the kids can see each other over the long break. Bring one, bring all. You’re needed, and you’re going to have a good time in the process.

In the meantime, though, this experience has left me with a nagging and frustrating question. We have in this country a growing hunger crisis; farmers are struggling to make ends meet; and there is a staggering amount of wasted food. Why not create real incentives for farmers to donate their surplus to charities like Bread for the City? I’ve been looking into this question, and the tax code is not exactly straightforward on the matter. But suffice it to say that in many cases farmers have no more tax incentive to donate food than they do to just plow over it.

This might be something that smart tax policy reform could change for the better. I’ll write more about the tax matter here soon. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, you can learn much more about wasted food at Jonathan Bloom’s Wasted Food blog. And please contact me if you’re interested in volunteering to help us get some produce.

1 comment:

Allie said...

Hi Sharon,

I just wanted to voice support for this initiative. American University is getting into gardening and soon enough we'll have produce to share. Some will go to those who tilled, but much could probably be donated. So we are on the look out for ways to give and organizations to give to.

Thanks for your post,