Following a lead, I drove to Brennen Park in Alexandria, VA this past Sunday where the West End Farmer’s Market was happening. I was accompanied by volunteer Meghan Garrity, who helped load and sort the produce (she also took the pictures).
Susan Birchler, who coordinates the farmers market, was kind enough to show me around and introduce me to the vendors. I met some great people who were all excited to see us there. Every farmer who had excess gave what they could. Things started slow and we weren’t sure what kind of quantity we would receive. But as the farmers market drew to a close, the tragedy of food waste became apparent through the sheer quantity of leftovers. Anything with a short shelf life gets dumped—unless of course BFC picks it up first. One of the peach farmers there told me to come back next week, saying that, “Shoppers are too picky, and won’t take a peach with the slightest bruise, even though that just means it’s perfectly ripe. We would much rather give it to you guys than toss it.”
The first vendor gave us a small tray of produce. Meghan went to return the tray, and when I turned around she was walking towards the van with 4 bulging bags of cucumbers, eggplants, and greens! We spent the next 20 minutes loading and sorting produce, and by the end we walked away with 300 lbs for the food pantry. There was a wonderful variety including eggplants, squash, cucumbers, green beans, carrots, beets, parsley, onions, assorted greens, and fresh baked bread. The quantity and variety will expand as harvest season piques this summer.
“We can give you 300-500 lbs of produce every week for the entire market season,” Susan told me as I was leaving, “I could not find anyone to take it off our hands! Without Bread for the City, this would have all gone to waste.” Those farmers are the ones doing us the biggest favor, though. Because of them, the low-income residents we serve will get a great variety of fresh produce, and all of it was free!
To top it off, the food pantry was short on fresh produce this Monday because one of our suppliers backed out. Without the West End Farmer's Market, many of our clients would have missed out on fresh food all together.