Food Waste – The Low Hanging Fruit

AmpleHarvest_logoBlog post by Gary Oppenheimer, founder and CEO of AmpleHarvest.org

 

Gary Oppenheimer

Gary Oppenheimer

When I created AmpleHarvest.org in 2009, I was not thinking about nutrition, the environment, community building, food systems or even hunger.  I was thinking about waste.

I hate waste.

Wasted time, energy, emotions, money, food, you name it.  As a 61 year old long distance cyclist, the two main reasons that I’m an excellent hill climber are that I stridently try not to waste any of my energy (kinetic or inertial), and because only half the hills are up.  Perspective helps.

Growing up with “finish what’s on your plate, kids are starving in Europe” from my parents made me keenly aware about food waste.  It stayed with me.

In 2008, Bill Marsh, New York Times photographer created this amazing map of the United States made to represent the food wasted by a family of four in America in one month.   About a pound per person per day or 122 lbs. of food a month is thrown away by a family.  Altogether, that’s about 100 billion pounds of food a year.

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Around the same time, I learned about Jonathan Bloom’s web site – my first in-depth introduction to wasted food.  The scope and magnitude of the waste certainly bothered me, and it should bother you.

Upset by the food waste in the community garden I was running and clearly seeing a technology solution to a problem in both our community and country, AmpleHarvest.org was launched in May 2009 to enable growers to finally donate their excess garden harvest.  It was rolled out with a wing, a passion and a prayer, but with no marketing plan.  As it turned out, we didn’t need one.  Three days later, Jonathan wrote an excellent blog article about AmpleHarvest.org that put a nationwide spotlight on this new program and catapulted AmpleHarvest.org towards where it is today.

AmpleHarvest.org was built to fix a chokepoint that exists in the American food bank network.  Because of the time and distance food travels in the network, it cannot handle fresh food – especially locally grown, freshly harvest food.

And since tens of millions of growers’ nationwide end up harvesting more food than they can use, preserve or give to friends, it gets thrown away – either into a compost pile or into the trash.  The pain is felt not only on the environment but most importantly, by the 50 million American’s who have no access to fresh food from their food pantry.

The impact has been reflected on the millions of Americans who suffer from obesity and diabetes as their diet is limited only to the processed food available at the food pantries – this while growers in the same community have been throwing away fresh food. The solution was to connect these growers directly to the local food pantry thereby bypassing the network chokepoint which was keeping fresh food out of the system.

AH_pic2AmpleHarvest.org was created to function as a “Google” for the food pantry network – educating, encouraging and enabling millions of growers to donate their excess bounty now, and for the rest of their gardening life. The model has no logistical overhead since the growers themselves transport the excess food to the community pantry when it is ready and the “just in time” inventory logic built into the model eliminates the need for additional refrigeration or storage. Since it relies on the Internet, it functions in any community, creating a fresh food supply channel that lasts forever.  And because it is fully reliant on the engagement of the people in the community, it scales at no additional cost.

Staggering amounts of money are spent globally to address hunger, malnutrition (including food related diseases such as obesity and diabetes) and the environment.  Tackling food waste – as AmpleHarvest.org does – helps to address all of them.

Instead of continually purchasing processed food to feed people, AmpleHarvest.org bridges the fresh food we already have to the nearby need. The result is a far lower operational cost and greater efficiency than any nationwide food program, since we don’t need to buy or transport food – just connect the dots.  A small staff and innovative technology makes it all happen.

The corporate, individual and charitable supporters helping AmpleHarvest.org are enabling reductions in

  • hunger relief costs
  • the waste stream (fresh food comes in its own usually edible packaging – no jars or cans to throw away)
  • methane emissions
  • diet related illnesses
  • the carbon foot print at food pantries across the country

The impact is both massive and long lasting.

And it all happens because a small innovative non-profit moves information instead of food. And while AmpleHarvest.org was specifically tailored for the American food system, the model will work in any country.

Although many American’s are hungry, we are not lacking the food needed to feed ourselves – only the opportunity to get it to the people who need it.

AmpleHarvest.org has solved that.

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Most people think of food waste as food that is at the end of its shelf life and no longer appealing to eat.  We think of food waste as excess food that was just harvested and should now be made available to a hungry family.

We work to educate people that the solution to hunger – and food waste, is in their back yard, and then empower them to do something about it.

Old ways won’t solve today’s problems.  New ideas and solutions can.  It’s time for innovative ideas like AmpleHarvest.org to receive the support and backing they need and to stop hoping that what we had thought would work, finally will.

The excess fresh food we already have is really the low hanging fruit for solving many of our problems.  And it costs a lot less to do than we’ve spent in the past.

AmpleHarvest.org joined the Zero Hunger Challenge this spring. Learn more about their work here.

 

This post does not reflect the views or opinion of the Zero Hunger Challenge, and does not imply endorsement by the United Nations.