Compensated Recovery of Surplus Produce from Local Farms by Food Banks
- Because the poor growing seasons in the Hartford, CT area in the last two years have made excess produce scarce, and because Foodshare of Greater Hartford acquired a collection/distribution building at the Hartford Regional Market that has shifted their major fresh produce donation sources to the market wholesalers, Foodshare has decided to withdraw from the program.
City Harvest of NYC has shown intense interest in the program, however, and the project will be revised to have them replace the Hartford food bank.
The Cornell-Ithaca Investigator has produced a comprehensive data package of all phases of the harvesting – handling costs for fifteen fruits and vegetables of interest to gleaners and food banks. These data will be refined to include the actual harvest compensation found acceptable to participating growers.
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.
Foodshare currently has an active fresh produce network with local donors. They include 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 is recovered and distributed, the unreliable quality and supply limits the establishment of fresh fruits and vegetables as a regular component in the diets of the clients served.
Although the project starting date was too late in the 2002 growing season to initiate a full season program, growers were made aware of the impending program’s objectives by personal contacts, presentations at grower organization meetings and through handouts distributed at many venues. A spring 2003 distribution of brochures formally introducing Foodshare’s VAP (Value Added Produce) program occured by mail and posting. However, during this time the food bank had secured a location at the Greater Hartford Regional Market for direct distribution of items recevied from terminal vendors: this facility was also made the central distribution point for surplus commodities to be obtained via the VAP mechanism.
Two situations developed in 2003. Firstly, 2003 was a disasterous growing year in New England, and because Foodshare is limited to collecting food in Hartford and Tolland Counties only, there was insuffecient surplus produce to allow participation by interested growers. A second issue was that the prospect of compensation to local growers might cause discontent among the wholesale vendors making huge donations at the regional market facility. The possibility that the VAP program could compromise the gratis contributions from wholesalers caused a reexamination of their position. Recognizing that they had become unique by having an established wholesale acqusition point, plus a valuable but restricted collection district, Foodshare requested that their involvement be replaced by a food bank that could better utilize the programs resources.
A questionnaire/Excel program for determining harvesting, packageing and transportation costs for over fifteen target commodities by interviewing producers in the NY-CT area was devised and executed in late 2002 and 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 Foodshare 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. Because of the poor growing season in 2003, none of the growers were able to complete a significantly large contract. Many donated the small amounts they had without compensation. The data base will be revised with future negotiated price agreements to also represent reasonable, acceptable compensation amounts.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The impact of the program thus far in the Hartford area has been minimal for the reasons stated. 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 have not afforded excess produce for the program. Coupled with this is Foodshare’s concern that a selective compensation program might upset relations between donor groups. They feel that their interests would be best served by withdrawing in favor of 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 has 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. It is our intention to revise our proposal to substitute City Harvest and its cooperators for Foodshare of Greater Hartford — the latter has agreed to relinquish their unspent funds. In doing so we will request a one-year no-cost extension of our program.
The production costs data base plus other organizational and contractual resources already developed for the CT program will allow a very fast startup in 2004. Also, several commidity specialists who have reviewed the data set found it very valuabe in its own right, and look forward to its publication.
FRESH FOODS SPECIALIST
FOODSHARE OF GREATER HARTFORD
101 RESERVE ROAD
HARTFORD, CT 06114
Office Phone: 8602930648
SR, EXT. ASSOC.
DEPT. OF APPLIED ECONOMICS AND MANAGEMENT
456 WARREN HALL
ITHACA, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072553688
575 8TH AVENUE, 4TH FLOOR
NEW YORK, NY 10018
Office Phone: 9173518700