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Posts Tagged ‘surplus’

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Photo: Owen Dubeck
Stanford sophomores James Kanoff and Stella Delp created the not-for-profit FarmLink to salvage surplus food from farmers and donate it to overwhelmed food banks. Above, Kanoff is seen helping to deliver a shipment of onions.

One of the more troubling manifestations of Covid-19’s impact on the economy is that farmers who no longer have restaurants and large institutions buying their food, unable to afford to transport it to food banks that desperately need it, are destroying much of what they produce.

Two sophomores at Stanford University knew that something had to be done. Sydney Page at the Washington Post has the story.

“Doug Hess spent the last three months staring at a mammoth mountain of potatoes — enough to feed more than 6 million people. The potato farmer in Ashton, Idaho, who sells to commercial farms that supply the food service industry, said the novel coronavirus pandemic has gutted his business. …

“He donated what he could, but the cost to pack the produce and ship it to food banks was too high, especially considering the massive financial loss the family farm, which goes back four generations, was already suffering.

“As Hess’s pile of wasted potatoes slowly started to rot, stomachs rumbled across the country.

“Food banks in the United States are grappling with unprecedented need — a direct symptom of widespread unemployment, as roughly 16 percent of Americans are still without a paycheck. …

“James Kanoff, 21, a sophomore at Stanford University, took note of the troubling paradox: Farms have a surplus of food from canceled restaurant contracts and a shattered supply chain, while food banks are experiencing a staggering surge in demand. …

“So Kanoff and a group of college students from Stanford and Brown universities started FarmLink, a grass-roots movement to prevent food waste while also working to address food insecurity. FarmLink raises money to pay farmers for produce and dairy that would otherwise be wasted, then funds the transportation to send the goods to food banks in the neediest areas around the country.

“Since it started in mid-April, FarmLink has delivered 2 million pounds of produce, including some of Hess’s potatoes, to hungry Americans, in just over a month. That’s roughly 1.5 million meals.

“Volunteers have delivered potatoes, eggs, milk, onions, lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers, salt, celery, carrots and sweet potatoes to communities in 22 states, including Hawaii — with no plans to stop, even after the pandemic ends. …

“Through social media campaigns and word of mouth, the initiative has raised more than $750,000 — mostly from small, individual donations.

“Kanoff grew up volunteering at Westside Food Bank in Santa Monica. When he heard the organization’s food supply was scarce, he decided to test the FarmLink concept by reaching out to a local farm and asking if it had an oversupply. …

“Farmers all around the United States are experiencing a major surplus — from thousands of acres of fresh fruits and vegetables in Florida and California, to millions of gallons of milk and countless eggs in Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin.

“Once Kanoff and his team secured 90,000 pounds of [onions from Shay Myers, the CEO of Owyhee Produce,] they reached out to Food Finders, a nonprofit food rescue organization that connects donated food to hundreds of pantries in Southern California. …

“ ‘The problem with the government programs is that the farms are not in the business of sourcing food banks,’ said [Diana Lara, the executive director of Food Finders]. … FarmLink is helping to bridge the gap. USDA distributors, including Borden Dairy, have started reaching out to FarmLink directly for assistance in finding food banks in need and distributing surplus product, Kanoff said.

“The burgeoning organization has divided its [100] volunteers into three specializations: the farms team locates farms with excess supply, the logistics team targets hot spots with the greatest food insecurity, and the food banks team connects directly with local pantries across the country to assess demand. The organization also has sponsorships with Uber Freight and Coyote Logistics, to assist with transporting the goods.

“FarmLink’s work has made an impact on some of the hardest-hit regions of the country, including Navajo Nation at the intersection of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah … Nathan Lynch, a site coordinator at Navajo Nation Christian Response Team, … who delivers emergency food boxes to 2,000 homes on the reserve, said the food insecurity in the region is pervasive. ‘FarmLink has filled a big void.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Noah Nasiali-Kadima
Noah Nasiali-Kadima, foreground, takes a selfie with members of the Africa Farmers Group during a tour of a member’s farm in Machakos County, Kenya. 

I was reading in the Boston Globe yesterday about a guy who, after surviving a life-threatening brain aneurysm that his doctor misdiagnosed, launched a new career as an activist for aneurysm patients. You have to hand it to such people.

In another example, see what Diane Cole of National Public Radio (NPR) learned when she interviewed an African farmer who turned a major cabbage liability into something much bigger than cabbages.

“Making lemonade out of life’s lemons is one thing. But what could Kenyan IT consultant-turned-farmer Noah Nasiali-Kadima do with the 75,000 fresh cabbages he had been stuck with?

“That was the dilemma he faced in 2016, when the buyer with whom he had a contract simply walked out on him, refusing to pay and leaving him with six acres of ripe cabbages that had cost most of his savings to produce.

“He was uncertain how to proceed, to whom he could turn for help or whether to give up altogether. So he came up with a different idea: That year, he started a Facebook group so that he and other farmers — including new ones like himself, and experienced farm veterans — could discuss and come up with solutions to problems just like this.

“The Africa Farmers Group now has 138,000 online members in Kenya and throughout Africa. He has also organized in-person educational seminars in countries across the continent including South Africa, Nigeria, Somalia and Zambia. The goal is to help farmers learn the skills they need to succeed, by providing forums in which they can share their own stories of success and failure, and offer their peers empathy, encouragement and practical tips. In recognition of his work, in September 2018, Facebook awarded him $1 million as part of its Facebook Community Leadership Program. …

“We spoke to him as he was preparing to participate as a speaker at the Food Tank New York City Summit, a two-day conference sponsored by the sustainable agriculture advocacy group Food Tank. … This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

“First of all, whatever happened to those 75,000 cabbages?
“I sold some, and some went bad on the farm. I gave some away to schools.

“Drought has left almost 3 million people there facing acute food insecurity. How can local farmers be a part of the solution?
“We have a lot of food shortages and food waste. There is a disconnect between the farmers producing the food and then getting it to market and to the people. No one is consulting the farmers themselves about, ‘How much can you produce, what do you need to help you to produce more?’ …

“You started out in technology in 2001, in programming and network management. How did agriculture come into the picture?
“I started out just to make some extra money since the tech space had become saturated. My father is a sugar farmer, and my father-in-law is a tomato farmer. One day in 2007, I was with my wife and my father-in-law and I said to him, ‘I want to be a farmer.’ He looked at me, like, ‘Are you really serious?’ And I said yes. He gave me and my wife a small piece of land, one-quarter of an acre, near his own farm, which is about an hour away from Nairobi. …

“At first this was a side career, a way to make an extra coin. … We started with green bell peppers, switched to tomatoes and watermelons and other crops, one of them cabbages.

“Then you faced the cabbage fiasco in 2016. Was that a turning point for you?
“I thought, this shouldn’t happen to any farmer. How come I can’t sell this produce? I did not know how to market or pitch what I had, or explain the particular quality or type of cabbage I had. …

“I saw how farmers were suffering. We have very many NGOs and very many tech solutions being funded but none that involve the farmers. I also wanted to make a difference, to see if I can start a group with farmers around me where we can talk about problems, who is buying what, what they are doing that is working and what is not. And I just opened a group on Facebook.

“The target was to sign up 3,000 farmers in three months. By the end of those three months, we had 16,000 farmers from across Africa. Some said, ‘Please post in English because I cannot speak Swahili!’

“It was a venue where farmers could talk to each other. I set up weekly online conversations with expert farmers from different regions who have worked with different kinds of soil and crops. Farmers listen to other farmers, so people could ask, ‘What were the challenges, how can we learn from you?’

“Now we have 138,000 members and growing. We also have more than 100,000 offline members in areas where internet connectivity is a challenge. Our motto is sharing is caring.

I have seen farmers who had given up. Then they hear from other farmers who have been through similar experiences. They see what they can do different.

“They learn they can contact this agronomist for more information about this problem, or try a different crop at this time of year, or maybe a particular variety that will do better in a particular climate, or maybe the soil is not right. These are success stories. They learn how to keep going or start again.”

Read more on how the initiative has grown and flourished, here.

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Photo: Anna Kusmer
An old Estey Organ Company factory space filled with donated reed organs.

Here is something the internet should be perfect for: finding the unusual person somewhere in the world who would like nothing better than to give new life to an old reed organ. There don’t seem to be too many such enthusiasts in the vicinity of the old Estey Organ Company in Vermont.

Anna Kusmer writes at Atlas Obscura, “In its heyday, the Estey Organ Company factory was the beating, bleating heart of Brattleboro, Vermont. It produced more than half a million organs in total and, at its peak, employed more than 500 people. On a fateful day in 1960, however, the assembly lines shut down and workers departed. After nearly a century in operation, the organ factory had gone silent.

“And then, like the most improbable boomerangs, the organs started coming back.

“Families with old, unwanted Estey organs started to donate them, one by one, to the Brattleboro Historical Society. First a few, then a few more, and the organs kept coming. Over the years, hundreds of organs have made their way back home. At first, the historical society was at a loss for what to do with them all.

“In 2002, the society chose the most interesting and playable organs and opened the Estey Organ Museum on the premises of the old factory. …

“Beyond the museum, since the 1970s, the Brattleboro Historical Society amassed what might be the largest organ collection in the world, at around 200 instruments. The majority are stored in other adjacent factory buildings owned by Barbara George, a historic preservationist and longtime Brattleboro resident.

“ ‘In a way, it’s my fault that we have all these organs,’ says George. She was generous with the old factory space, which at first provided ample room. But after years of accepting any and all organ donations, many of the buildings began to fill up. It was a unique predicament for any local society. …

“ ‘They’re a curse,’ George says, only half-joking. Today, the museum only accepts donated organs in perfect working condition, or rare or unusual examples. But this hasn’t completely stopped the tide. On a couple of occasions, organs have been anonymously left outside the door of the museum. ‘In the museum world, we call that a “drive-by donation,” ‘ says George. …

 

“Rock ‘n’ roll and the rise of electric instruments, however, did the old organs in. … However, the instrument is still occasionally found in contemporary music—John Lennon and Nico were fans.

“Collecting so many of them, in one place, was never George’s plan. ‘The mission of the museum is to promote continued use and enjoyment. They’re certainly not doing anyone any good in here,’ she says. …

“ ‘People don’t want them,’ says George, ‘but they also don’t want to throw them away.’

“Brattleboro’s best bet for its tidal wave of busted organs is to raise awareness about just how many they have, so they can find people willing to breathe new life into them. Says George, ‘We’d most like to see a reed organ revival.’ ” More history and some great pictures here.

Any takers out there? I’ll bet KerryCan knows a likely reed-organ lover.

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Photo: Daily Table
Fresh surplus food is sold for less, with help from a distribution platform called Spoiler Alert.

A logistics company that moves unwanted, unneeded but perfectly fresh food to people who do want and need it has chosen the perfect Internet slang for its name: Spoiler Alert. Ordinarily, “spoiler alert” is what you say if you are recommending or reviewing a film or book and don’t want to spoil the ending for someone else. In this case, it’s about delivering fresh food where it’s needed before it spoils.

Janelle Nanos writes at the Boston Globe, “Spoiled food is a costly problem, accounting for about $218 billion in financial losses to US farms, businesses, and consumers each year, according to ReFED, a group of companies, nonprofits, and foundations that was formed last year to minimize food waste. Since its launch in 2015, Spoiler Alert’s food-matching platform has been adopted by 200 businesses and nonprofits in New England to cut down on waste and encourage donations by making them easier to track.

“The company was created by two MIT Sloan School of Management graduates, Ricky Ashenfelter and Emily Malina, and their chief technology officer, Marty Sirkin, and has worked its way through the city’s accelerator programs, winning $50,000 from MassChallenge in 2015 and a spot in this year’s Techstars Boston cohort. …

” ‘At Daily Table I like to think of Spoiler Alert as an opportunity to further meet our mission of capturing healthy, tasty products before they make it to compost or trash,’ said Ismail Samad, executive chef of the Dorchester grocery store, which sells food and prepared meals gleaned from donations. He said he relies heavily on Spoiler Alert to source the food for his store shelves.

“But part of Spoiler Alert’s recent success can be credited to another, rather wonky aspect of its platform, which helps companies navigate the tax code. [In December 2015], Congress passed a bill that expanded the tax breaks companies can receive for donating food, making it easier for small businesses to donate and for farmers to assess the fair market value of their inventories.” Read how it all comes together, here.

A nonprofit organization that is also a MassChallenge winner and does similar work in the region is Lovin’ Spoonfuls, which I blogged about here. MassChallenge is a startup accelerator that helps new companies get launched. Its judges are partial to companies that can do well by doing good, bless their hearts.

Photo: Lovin’ Spoonfuls
Lovin’ Spoonfuls donates food to Safe Haven, a housing program run by the Bedford (MA) Veterans Administration.

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