Compensated Recovery of Surplus Produce from Local Farms by Food Banks

Final Report for LNE02-168

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $100,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Terry Spittler
Cornell University
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Project Information

Summary:

Every year in New York State, hundreds of thousands of acres of farm fresh product is being plowed under or unutilized for lack of a firm market to justify the additional harvesting expenses. If the Food Banks and Food Rescue Organizations in New York State could work to reimburse local farmers for the additional expense of harvesting and packing surplus crops, the amount of fresh produce available to hungry New Yorkers would increase exponentially. It is recognized that in order to secure adequate supplies of quality fresh produce so desperately needed in most hunger relief systems, there has to be some compensation for harvesting and other costs associated with mobilizing excess production. Money so spent, however, would go directly into the local economy. Since the initiation of this concept as a local pilot program in April 2002, with the cooperation of Foodshare of Hartford & Tollen Counties (CT), there had also been a tremendous interest in establishing a state-wide or northeast regional network along the same lines expressed to us by major food banks in New York State. Because we initiated this concept, we helped take the lead in establishing this larger network — an organizational meeting of over twenty interested agencies took place January 30, 2003, in Millbrook, NY. In particular, City Harvest, the dominant New York City hunger relief agency expressed a willingness to commit significant financial and transportation resources to secure a link to upstate New York produce surpluses. After assuming the role of Co-Principal Investigator in early 2004, City Harvest of New York City created Harvest Works, which has built an economic bridge between New York State farmers and hungry people in New York City by creating a market for the harvesting and purchase of under-utilized local produce at fair, negotiated rates and delivering it to low-income neighborhoods in New York City; ultimately increasing access to and sources of fresh produce in these neighborhoods while benefiting farmers through cost recovery and increased income.

Introduction:

Although gleaning and other food rescue mechanisms for obtaining fresh fruits and vegetables for hunger relief programs have been in existence for many years, they were frequently poorly coordinated or unable to mobilize adequate personnel or resources to take advantage of larger or time sensitive offers. For example: 1) a food recovery agency was unable to organize the gathering of five acres of dry bulb onions before scheduled plowing occurred: arrangements with the grower for machine harvesting/pickup could have been made for a nominal fee, 2) an apple grower allows the pick up of drops, but not tree harvesting by inexperienced gleaners; he agrees that he could have his idle migrant labor pick quality tree fruit for food banks if funds to cover his labor and trucking costs were available, 3) a sweet corn grower offered 25 acres of crop he did not intend to market if he could recover his machine picking and bag costs; no funds could be identified and the donation of 4000 bags of corn was lost, 4) several growers have offered to grow extra rows of produce for a food bank with an active field gleaning program; they request cost recovery for seed and fertilizer only, all tilling and crop maintenance would be donated as part of their regular operations.

The efforts to address this situation were two-fold – to obtain proof of concept funding to capitalize upon these opportunities, and to convince growers and processors that it was in their interest to make large produce surpluses available. Also essential were hunger relief organizations with the initiative to adopt and prove the viability of the concept. Harvest Works aims to build an economic bridge between New York State farmers and hungry people in New York City by creating a market for the harvesting and purchase of under-utilized local produce at fair, negotiated rates, and delivering it to low-income neighborhoods in New York City. Ultimately this will increase access to, and sources of, fresh produce in these neighborhoods, while also benefiting farmers through increased income. Foodlink of Rochester, NY has already agreed to partner in this effort, greatly broadening the area of NYS from which they may both draw producer support.

Performance Target:

Most surplus produce is not made available to gleaning or food recovery, nutrition assistance programs for the needy because of grower/processor concerns for liability, damage to fields, inadequate gleaning/pickup capabilities, timing, transportation, or other reasons. The ability of food banks to acquire this surplus for their distribution networks while it is still of market quality would be invaluable to the nutritional assistance efforts of many groups.

The long-range objective of this project is to establish a mechanism for obtaining excess production of market-quality fresh fruits and vegetables from farms and processors by reimbursing them for some harvesting, container or handling costs. An incentive for growers to participate will be that they will retain the option of selling this contracted excess elsewhere at market prices if demand should develop. But, if market demand is not sufficient, they may recover their harvesting costs by selling to the food bank at the negotiated rate.

Upon initiation of this concept as a local pilot program in April 2002, in Greater Hartford, Foodshare had active fresh produce networks with local donors. They included farms, wholesalers, distributors and farm markets that gave excess, dated or culled products to the food bank for sorting. In addition, an active field-gleaning program operated with volunteer civic groups, harvesting at cooperating farms. While much was recovered and distributed, the unreliable quality and supply limited the establishment of fresh fruits and vegetables as a regular component in the diets of the clients served.

Shortly after the programs startup, the Foodshare food bank secured a location at the Greater Hartford Regional Market for direct distribution of items received from terminal vendors: this facility was also initially intended be the central distribution point for surplus commodities obtained through their existing channels.

City Harvest, the dominant New York City hunger relief agency also expressed a willingness to commit significant financial and transportation resources to secure a link to upstate New York produce surpluses. They recognized that in order to secure adequate supplies of quality fresh produce so desperately needed in most hunger relief systems, there has to be some compensation for harvesting and other costs associated with mobilizing excess production.

City Harvest subsequently assumed a co-Principal Investigators role in the program with the withdrawal of Foodshare, and soon fronted a well focused set of objectives;

Identify the highest-need products by City Harvest agencies, and match these to agriculture production regions, or specific agriculture producers in New York State. Attained, the need for fresh fruits and vegetables has long been recognized; it is an ungoing effort of this prograqm to find new sources of surplus commodities that can be obtained and distributed by Harvest Works.

Work with CCE agents (co-investigators) and other agricultural economic development people to identify appropriate producers. Attained, but all cooperating producers do not always have surplus to feed into the program; therefore it is a constant effort to find surplus material and convince the owner of the program's benefits.

Contact producers to propose a pilot purchase program of agriculture product. Attained. This is a constant effort, as described above.

Negotiate product specifics (grading, packaging, any processing associated with the product and price, e.g.). Attained, the production and processing cost guidelines developed aid in selecting the best point in the distribution chain at which to take posession. However, we must frequently negotiate based upon the package in which the material resides as surplus.

Identify and quantify all costs of procuring product, including staff, marketing, trucking, warehousing, re-packing and distribution costs. Attained, but the introduction of a new commodity into the program necessarly requires that data unique to that product be developed.

Establish and implement a cost-effective distribution method and a schedule for delivery to the NYC market. Attained. A strong point of Harvest Work's creation was that much of this distribution chain was already on place through City Harvest.

Create marketing and educational materials to complement the product and promote it within the agencies and among the individual recipients.

Attained:

Arrange and then transport product into NYC hunger relief agencies. Attained, in some instances, producers more effectively transported the product from their facilities to a NYC stageing/distribution center.

Evaluate pilot from all stakeholder perspectives: producer, distribution system, City Harvest, hunger relief agencies and individual recipients—cost, efficiency, packaging, nutritional benefits, product enjoyment, and desire to repeat/replicate with same or other products. Attained and described in their appropriate sections.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • JENNIFER MCLEAN
  • STEPHEN SLIPCHINSKY
  • WEN-FEI UVA

Research

Materials and methods:

Foodshare had active fresh produce networks with local donors, along with sorting cleaning and distribution facilities at their Windsor (CT) headquarters. Their network included farms, wholesalers, distributors and farm markets that give excess, dated or culled products to the food bank for sorting. In addition, an active field-gleaning program operates with volunteer civic groups to harvest at cooperating farms. While much was recovered and distributed, the amounts and quality were consistently short of the needs of the 135 local agencies they regularly served.

The project starting date was too late in the 2002 growing season to initiate a full season -program. However, growers were made aware of the impending program's objectives by personal contacts, presentations at grower organization meetings and through brochures distributed at meetings. A spring promotional mailing also took place.

The food bank soon secured a location at the Greater Hartford Regional Market for direct distribution of items received from terminal vendors: this facility was also to be the central distribution point for surplus commodities obtained via the Windsor facility.

A questionnaire/Excel program for determining harvesting, packaging and transportation costs for selected commodities by interviewing producers in the target area was conducted and produced by co-PI Uva. Data collected determined compensation guidelines for offers to growers for harvesting and/or delivering large lots of excess production to the Foodshare food bank for distribution to hunger programs. Data collected was also incorporated into an interactive Excel CD which allowed growers to track their own production costs and determine feasibility points for compensated donations. This system was available to both potential donors and to food donation coordinators.

Harvest Works developed or employed several systems:

-- Purchased 10 CSA shares in coordination with Just Foods and South Bronx CSA from Norwich Meadows Farm for FY06 CSA initiative.

-- Contracted with an Orange County Farmer for 12,000 lbs of fruits and vegetables at wholesale cost and distributed them to low-income residents of the South Bronx through our Mobile Market initiative.

-- Secured a partner and funding for two additional contract farming agreements and produce distributions at Mobile Markets in Harlem. Purchased 18,000 lbs of produce from two New York State farms.

-- Distributed 500 educational materials to recipients of the New York State products at Mobile Markets in the South Bronx and Harlem highlighting the benefits of local produce and how and where residents can access local produce on their own.

-- Confirmed planned Harvest Reimbursement for load of apples this fall with Stone Ridge Orchards.

-- Confirmed participation of America’s Second Harvest affiliate Northeast Regional Food Bank of the Hudson Valley in City Harvest’s annual Farmland Harvest Drive.

-- Mailed letters to 30 Orange County farmers requesting donations of unsaleable product and offering packaging reimbursement on undersized product as part of our annual Farmland Harvest Drive.

-- Enlisted America’s Second Harvest affiliate Food Link of Rochester New York as a partner in Harvest Works Harvest Reimbursement

Research results and discussion:

The gift of a collection/distribution site at the Hartford Regional Market was not anticipated when Foodshare joined the proposal, plus the poor local crop yields in 2002 and 2003 had not afforded excess produce for the program. Because of these poor growing seasons, none of the CT growers were able to complete a significantly large trial contract. Many donated the small amounts they had without compensation. During 2003 and early 2004 Foodshare of Hartford and Tolland Counties (CT) invested heavily in their wholesale produce acquisition point which was soon meeting all of their fresh produce needs. Coupled with this was Foodshare's concern that a selective compensation program for farmers only might upset relations with wholesale donors giving large amounts of produce at the Greater Hartford Regional market site. They thus decided that their interests would be best served by withdrawing from the program and surrendering all of their grant funds to a different food bank.

Several NYS food banks have expressed intense interest in establishing similar programs, and with our assistance they have been preparing proposals for submission to both Research and Extension Federal Formula Fund programs. Most notable among these was been City Harvest of NYC, which has already secured CCE cooperators in the upstate agricultural areas to promote this concept to local growers as a market expansion effort. Thus we revised our proposal to substitute City Harvest and its cooperators for Foodshare of Greater Hartford

A questionnaire/Excel program for determining harvesting, packaging and transportation costs for over fifteen target commodities by interviewing producers in the NY-CT area was devised and executed in late 2002and 2003. These data were used as preliminary guidelines for compensation to be paid growers for harvesting and delivering large lots of excess production to the food bank for distribution to hunger programs. There was some feeling among growers that although the data may reflect costs, they needed slightly higher compensation.

The Harvest Works Harvest Reimbursement program instituted by City Harvest accomplished the following between April 2004 and December 2005:

Outlined a strategy for a 5 year program:

“Harvest Works aims to build a system to provide incentives for New York State farmers to harvest produce specifically to help feed low-income people in New York City through reimbursing farmers for harvesting and packaging costs, purchasing shares of CSAs and contracting with farmers to grow specifically for Harvest Works and distribute this produce to low income neighborhoods through our existing network of City Harvest agencies, mobile market, and future programs”.

Identified products that are of high-need in the agency network and are produced in the region. Research was done with industry reports, Farm Bureau, Cornell Cooperative Extension agents, Just Food, and NY State farmers.

Attended and presented at a Sustainable Agriculture conference.

Distributed educational materials regarding program.

Identified harvesting costs of specific products.

Developed relationships with producers for harvest reimbursement, including Stone Ridge Orchards.

Procured one load of one crop (apples), through harvest reimbursement with Champlain Valley Apple Storage.

Secured a $.03 per pound subsidy from A2H on an apple load (and subsequent NY State VAP loads).

Purchased 10 CSA shares for a Queens agency in FY05. Agency started their own CSA the following year.

Created and executed six weekly nutritional classes in conjunction with CSA.

Currently negotiating a purchase of 10 CSA shares for FY06.

Attended NY Farmer annual meeting and workshop.

Currently negotiating rates and developing a delivery schedule for contract farming with Dagele Produce.

Worked with two new apple growers – Troncillito Farms and Red Jacket Orchards – and one current apple contact – Stone Ridge Orchard – to procure 116,000 pounds of apples.

Secured 105,000 new pounds of onions from the 2005 onion drive. Has been able to capture lost donors like Sidoti Farms; Sidoti had not donated regularly for well over 3 years, but in 2005 they are the largest onion donor.

Developed and distributed the following promotional events or materials.

-- HarvestWorks was mentioned in 200 Greenmarket newsletters

-- Flyers mailed to 30 New York State Greenmarket farmers

-- HarvestWorks mentioned in Fresh News in December, with a distribution of 6,000 subscribers

Offered a VAP to onion growers that have historically only donated product. We decided to offer VAP because we were watching donations decrease year after year. We offered our farmers $.015/pound and have received donations from 2 farmers whom had not called in the past onion drive.

Applied for ongoing support of this project through the FAID (Food and Agriculture Industry Development) grant program of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Secured $20,000 from the David Rockefeller Fund in December 2005 to support the HarvestWorks project in the months to come (2006).

Attended the Farm Bureau meeting in Buffalo December 5-7th and met with all of the New York State A2H members, who include all 8 NYS food banks and 2 NYS food rescue organizations. The purpose of this group is to bring in more food to NYS through group initiatives. We are always trying to get group consensus on working with farmers state-wide to reimburse them for their harvesting costs, and therefore increase overall donations.

Worked to further the Harvest For All partnership that partners A2H and their members with local Farm Bureau representatives. As an A2H group, we presented the total pounds donated by farms in New York State, as well as introduced more ways farmers can work with City Harvest.

This project has resulted in a strong, viable and growing network of growers, cooperative extension and hunger relief agencies that, with the resources of this program, obtained and delivered over 245,000 lbs of fresh fruits and vegetables to the disadvantaged of NYC : all for under $ 0.19 per pound.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

Two pieces of promotional literature were developed in 2002. A one-sided flyer for board posting, inserts and handouts announces the program as a new facet of Foodshare's continuing efforts, while a tri-fold brochure in 8.5 x 14 inch format is printed on both sides to serve as a more detailed, mailable introduction.

The success and significance of the NYC program has resulted in interest from several other food banks, and in the establishment of a firm partnership with Foodlink of Rochester, NY. Informational publications from both the original program, and from the Harvest Works protocols allow for facile replication of the program in any areas with food production areas in proximity to needy populations: it is equally facile in serving rural nutrition needs.

The CD/ Excel program for determining harvesting, packaging and transportation costs for over fifteen target commodities is invaluable for preliminary guidelines for compensation to be paid growers for harvesting and packaging. The CD also contains tables of average expected yields for the commodities important in the New York- New England area. While there were differences of opinion regarding the manner in which some expenses were calculated, it was decided to retain our original allocations because it enabled a more realistic estimation of normal production, not just items intended for possible donation.

Developed and distributed the following materials. 1) HarvestWorks was mentioned in Fresh news in December, with a distribution of 6,000 subscribers, 2) 200 Greenmarket newsletters distributed 3)Flyers mailed to 30 New York State Greenmarket farmers.

No milestones

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

The impact of the program thus far in the Hartford area has been minimal for the reasons stated. However, all of their fresh produce needs are being met through their Regional Market facility. The market/cost research that was conducted early in the program in the northeast by our Cornell/Ithaca component relied heavily on the many and diverse farming operations in CT, however. Their contributions were not small.

Several more NYS food banks have expressed intense interest in establishing similar programs, and with our assistance they have been preparing proposals for submission to both Research and Extension Federal Formula Fund programs. Most recently among these has been the Mid-Hudson food bank in Cornwall, which is affiliated with the Regional Food Bank in Albany.

The production costs data base plus other organizational and contractual resources already developed for the CT and NYC programs will allow a very fast startup for new organizations in 2006, and beyond. Also, several commodity specialists who have reviewed the data set and cost assessment CD found it very valuable in its own right, and they look forward to its further distribution.

Economic Analysis

This project has resulted in a strong, viable and growing network of growers, cooperative extension and hunger relief agencies that, with the resources of this program, obtained and delivered over 245,000 lbs of fresh fruits and vegetables to the disadvantaged of NYC : all for under $ 0.19 per pound.

Wen-Fei Uva has produced an exceptionally comprehensive assessment of harvest and processing costs to be used for determining fair compensation for produce which is acquired at various stages in the marketing chain. A CD containing an Excel program for determining harvesting, packaging and transportation costs for over fifteen target commodities was distributed in September 2004.This program is used to establish preliminary guidelines for compensation to be paid growers for harvesting and packaging large quantities of excess produce for distribution by City Harvest. More recent additions, including general machinery and equipment expenses, plus sections for tomatoes, peppers, winter and summer squash, cabbage, sweet corn, beans, melons, strawberries and blueberries, not all of which are usually encountered in gleaning operations, make this a very versatile tool for any grower in need of a facile means of assessing costs. This is intended for general distribution to growers, upon request.

By means of illustration. several truckloads of fresh apples were recently obtained for $0.12/lb, which represented cost recovery to the grower for the boxes they were packed in.

Farmer Adoption

This project has resulted in a strong, viable and growing network of growers, cooperative extension and hunger relief agencies that, with the resources of this program, obtained and delivered over 245,000 lbs of fresh fruits and vegetables to the disadvantaged of NYC : all for under $ 0.19 per pound. The NYS Dept. of Health is instituting a $0.03/lb subsidy for selected programs, plus, the David Rockefeller Foundation has awarded $20,000 to continue program development.

The success and significance of this NYC program has resulted in interest from several other food banks, and in the establishment of a firm partnership with Foodlink of Rochester, NY. Informational publications from both the original program, and from the Harvest Works protocols allow for facile replication of the program in any areas with food production areas in proximity to needy populations: it is equally facile in serving rural nutrition needs. The CD/ Excel program for determining harvesting, packaging and transportation costs for over fifteen target commodities is invaluable for preliminary guidelines for compensation to be paid growers for harvesting and packaging. The CD also contains tables of average expected yields for the commodities important in the New York- New England area.

Participation by growers/producers in the program is essential for success, of course, and Harvest Works is heavily promoting involvement with personal contacts and with media communications pushing both the economic and charitable benefits, to wit:

1. Get Involved: Get to know your local food bank, which is part of America’s Second Harvest (A2H). Call and say hello and that you are a concerned farmer who is interested in helping. To locate an A2H food bank in your area, log on to www.endhungerny.org.

2. Donate Food: Donate your excess farm product to an A2H food bank.

• Donate food that is safe to eat - we will pick up right from you!

• Donate food for National Hunger Awareness Day on June 7, 2005.

• Allow gleaners on your farm to glean fields for the hungry.

• Call us before you plow something under – we may be able to help you harvest it!

3. Volunteer Your Time:

• Arrange to bring youth groups to the food bank to help sort salvaged food.

• Tutor children who come to local Kids Cafe® for a hot meal.

• Speak to kids at local Kids Cafe® and teach them about life on a farm or about a farm product such as milk, apples or cheese.

4. Donate Your Space: Donate your farm for tours or events for the food bank. Invite an agency to the farm for a day.

5. Run A Food Drive: Organize your workplace, house of worship, child’s school or community group to raise money or nonperishable food for local food banks.

6. Spread The Word: Tell your friends, families and elected leaders about hunger in your community. Log onto www.secondharvest.org for hunger information, or contact your local A2H food bank directly through www.endhungerny.org

7. Plant a Row For The Hungry: Plant an extra acre, an extra row, or an extra product specifically for donation. Call your local food bank to work out the pick up details.

8. Support: Support your local food bank by participating in their fundraising events including auctions and galas. It is great fun for a great cause.

9. Donate Non-Food Items To Your Local Food Bank: You can help other families in need by picking up cases of donated toothbrushes, razors, soaps, shampoos, etc; sorting them at home and returning prepared "gift-bags" to the food bank. Families arriving at shelters unexpectedly and desperately need these items.

10. Keep Farming: Keep doing what you do best. We know that the benefits are immeasurable.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

The most important facet of this concept still requiring a thorough assessment is that of the financial and health benefits to be gained by there being sufficient long-term funding to maintain it in a sustainable time frame. Having this program operational and assured of reasonable funding for a term sufficient to establish ongoing arrangements with growers, shippers and processors would allow a steady and efficient flow of the foods needed to promote good nutrition and good health in the needy sectors of our society. Money paid to farmers for harvesting, etc. goes directly into the local economy, it also promotes good eating habits in the served population such that should they achieve more fiscal independence in the future, they will be educated consumers of the nutritious fresh produce grown by the self same farmers that made their surpluses available in leaner times. In effect, this concept provides some of the most necessary fractions of a good diet to needy families at a cost well below any other food supplementary program, and at the same time introduces and establishes these local fresh commodities as part of their regular diets, It has the potential to make them lifelong customers of the local farm community. An assessment of these costs, and of the savings to be realized by various government agencies by empowering food rescue programs to establish and maintain such endeavors, is needed.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.