Ag (Against) Waste

Last week I visited Ag Against Hunger, a food recovery operation in Salinas, Calif. What makes their operation unique is that it receives donations primarily from the large-scale farms.ag-against.jpg

In Salinas, known as “Salad Bowl of America,” most of the big farms are packers and shippers, too. The majority of the donations Ag Against Hunger receives come from these companies’ cooling sheds, where the vegetables are cooled in preparation for being shipped across the country.

Ag Against Hunger’s full-time driver, Henry Arias, makes the rounds in the non-profit’s 53-foot rig. There’s so much food to be donated that Arias collects vegetables about 40 hours per week from packer-shippers within two miles on Salinas’ Abbott Street “produce row” and in neighboring towns.

On the afternoon I visited, Ag Against Hunger’s cooler looked like a supermarket store room. On this average day, the group received 46 palettes of produce, with each palette holding about 70 boxes.

img_1416.JPGWith those kinds of sources, it comes as no surprise that Ag Against Hunger has donated more than 139 million pounds of fresh produce to food banks in California and beyond since the group launched 17 years ago. The produce donated often has slight discoloration, has sat for too long in the cooler or won’t arrive at stores long enough before its sell-by date.

Another major cause for donation is “the market.” If prices get too low, companies are much more likely to donate crops. Two weeks ago, Ag Against Hunger received 140 palettes full of salad mix in one day because prices for lettuce didn’t justify the expense of shipping. That’s six tractor trailers full.

A larger problem when prices go south is that growers often leave whole fields unharvested. Ag Against Hunger’s gleaning outings target these fields, known as “walk-bys,” but the events are more symbolic than anything. The non-profit gets less than 1 percent of its total donations from gleaning, said Ag Against Hunger’s friendly Executive Director Abby Taylor-Silva.

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