Thursday, December 30, 2010
Ag Against Hunger is the ultimate example of a simple idea – one spark – put into great action.
Without the Spreckels-based nonprofit, 11 million pounds of produce would have ended up in compost heaps or in landfills this year, instead of at local food banks which in turn distribute the food to groups that need it.
The growers who produced that food would have had to pay a fee to dispose of it, and hungry people in three counties on the Central Coast, as well as those elsewhere in California, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Washington, would not have access to fresh produce.
“We can actually feed one person for one pound of produce, and given that 11 million pounds were saved last year… that’s a staggering amount of people,” says Ag Against Hunger spokeswoman Lindsay Coate.
The nonprofit began in 1990 when Tim Driscoll, a manager at Valley Pride Harvesting, was helping feed the needy during a produce-industry class in Dallas, Texas. While volunteering, Driscoll discovered the problem reached closer to home on the Central Coast, and that the hungry included not only homeless but also the working poor and middle class having to choose between paying rent or buying food.
Driscoll knew about 20 percent of produce grown went to waste and was dumped for various reasons, even though it was still edible. He needed a way to get that surplus produce to stop going to waste.
One year later, with the help of a $23,000 grant from the Harden Foundation, Driscoll, Willy Elliott-McCrea of Second Harvest Food Bank in Santa Cruz, and Jess Brown of the Santa Cruz Farm Bureau started a program called F.O.O.D. Crops (Food Organizations Organizing and Distributing Crops), a division of the Second Harvest Food Bank. The program, known today as Ag Against Hunger, is simple. Growers and shippers contact Ag Against Hunger when they have surplus produce; in turn Ag Against Hunger picks up the produce and distributes it to food banks in the Tri-County area to help feed the hungry.
More than 400,000 pounds of produce was donated that first year. Since then, Ag Against Hunger has received 175 million pounds.
Food is distributed locally through the Monterey County Food Bank, as are recipes focusing on how to cook a particular vegetable, such as the often misunderstood kale.
Ag Against Hunger brings volunteers from the communities in to pick through the already harvested fields. “The bulk of what we do is from the generosity of growers,” Coate says.
The best part of the gleans is that people who are on their knees picking produce know the food will land on someone’s plate within a day or two.
“They don’t realize what it takes to get food from farm to table,” Coate said. “One volunteer said, ‘I will appreciate every strawberry I eat from now on. I had no idea how hard this was.’”