Eat Your Food, Don’t Throw It Away!

America wastes 40% of its food. That’s like throwing away over $2,200 per year for a family of four.

Here are five ways to stop wasting food and stretch your food dollars:

1. Make a menu plan before shopping.  Look through your refrigerator and cupboard before heading to the store, and plan meals for the week. Use up ingredients you already have and supplement only what you need.

2. While planning your meals, consider more than one way to eat your food. Baking chicken and planning to have leftovers? Add a few ingredients to have chicken tacos or chicken soup the next day. You’re more likely to finish leftovers if they have been “repurposed” into a new meal.

3. When you return from the store, spend a few minutes preparing food. Cut up vegetables, so they are easy to grab for a snack.  Chop vegetables and meats so they are ready for meal prep.  This makes it easy to stick to your meal plan rather than eating out after a long day.

4. Think about the food you often throw away. For many, it’s fruit and vegetables that aren’t used. Keep them front and center – in a fruit bowl on the counter, in front of the fridge – so you are more likely to remember to eat them. Lots of food can be kept in the freezer –bread, baked goods, even milk and yogurt! Put leftovers in the freezer rather than throwing them away, and you’ll save yourself a day of cooking later.

5. Wrap leftovers in small containers and use for lunch the next day. Just remember to take your meal to work or school.  You’ll save yourself the money of eating out and also prevent waste!

A little planning can save your family big money and help reduce waste and save natural resources.

Sarah C. is a guest contributor to Bread for the City’s blog.

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Bread for the City hosting city-wide sustainability party on 10.10.10

On October 10th, Bread for the City will proudly join with 350.org and organizations and communities across the world, in a “Global Work Party” — a coordinated set of actions to make our communities more sustainable and carbon-neutral.

In the past few years, we’ve taken several steps to make our own community more sustainable. We’ve rescued tons and tons of food that would otherwise have gone to waste. We’ve begun to collect and distribute tens of thousands of reusable grocery bags through our food pantry. And we’ve even begun gardening on the roof!

Now our Northwest Center will be kind of a home-base for actions happening across the city.

Along with dozens of other local and national organizations, we’ll use 10.10.10 as an opportunity to celebrate these steps, share ideas and visions for a more sustainable and just future, pressure the government to follow our lead.

Come join us. The Hip Hop Caucus, with the Green the Block campaign and Roadside Organics, are throwing down a big Local Food Block Party on site at our Northwest Center. From noon to 4pm on Sunday October 10th, come enjoy free food prepared by local chefs using local ingredients — and stay to enjoy local hip hop performances, plus demonstrations of cooking, gardening, weatherization and more. We’ll even be giving a sneak preview of something very exciting: a rooftop garden on top of our new facility!

RSVP on Facebook here.

Lots of things are happening in the city on 10.10.10 — see the full list here. Head out to explore and then meet us back here!

>A week of choice!

>After two successful dry-runs, Client Choice recently went live for an entire week at our Southeast Center, and these experiments have made one thing perfectly clear: our clients love the ability to choose what food they receive from our pantry. This alone makes it a priority for us to implement Client Choice as a permanent feature of our food program.

Permanently instituting Client Choice is going to take time and work. Our average “cycle time” (the total time it takes for a client to receive a bag) is a lean 4 minutes in the regular pantry setup; during the choice experiments our cycle time averaged 6.7 minutes. That’s not bad, but we do want to keep our pantry as efficient as possible — so we intend to tinker with the pantry’s layout, adding new tables that mimic a grocery store experience.

We are also developing a volunteer training module, breaking out everything step-by-step, so that experienced volunteers can easily train first-timers, and staff have the help they need to carry the extra workload.

Even with increased cycle times, however, we find that most clients don’t mind the extra waiting. As one client explained, “I don’t mind waiting if I get to shop for what I like. This is fun!” This sentiment is music to our ears. But despite this, we want to be sensitive to people’s schedules. Sometimes a client needs to make a job interview, catch a bus, or pick up their kids from school. So we intend to offer a choice for choice. If clients need to rush out, pre-made bags will be ready and waiting for them.

Client Choice embodies the very mission of BFC: identifying opportunities to meet people’s needs in an environment of dignity and respect. For people who often have little control over their circumstances, we believe it is important to establish an opportunity for them to decide what food they need from us. With that in mind we will continue our choice experiment and make improvements until it becomes a permanent feature of our pantry.

>We Want $20,000!

>Glean for the City currently stands in third place in the Tom’s of Maine 50 States for Good contest. This is great news, as the top five projects will receive $20,000!

Remember, you can vote every day until October 30th. So vote today – and tomorrow, and the day after that, and the — then tell your friends to do the same. Glean for the City needs this cash … and our clients need the veggies.

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>Volunteer Spotlight: Parker Farms

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Parker Farms started as a family owned “Pick Your Own” operation with two acres of vegetables and berries in 1974. Rod Parker still runs the family business as the General Manager, with his son working as the Field Manager. With headquarters in Oak Grove, Virginia, Parker Farms now handles over 3,200 acres of farmland in Maine, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Rod was a huge help in the planning process for Glean for the City, and gave us valuable information that allowed the program to really take off. He took time out of his hectic schedule to sit down and talk with Bread for the City about food waste and the gleaning process. (That’s Rod talking to Nutrition Initiative Adviser Sharon Feuer Gruber.) He took a lot of guesswork out of running the program, and helped to prepare us to hit the ground running.

This year, with the help of Parker Farms, volunteers working with Glean for the City have collected nearly 30,000 total pounds of fresh produce. We will be back at Parker Farms in October to glean broccoli, and any interested volunteers should visit www.BreadfortheCity.org/gleanforthecity.

Thank you Rod Parker and Parker Farms for all that you do. We are proud to have you as our 2009 Fresh Food Partner.

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Gleaning Provides Opportunities for Education

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http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

Two days ago I made my third trip to Parker Farms in Virginia to gather fresh crops for our pantry.

I was met by volunteers from Setauket Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jeff Geary, the group leader, brought a group of 8 volunteers to hit the fields with Glean for the City. After two successful gleanings, I am expanding our trips to include education and dialogue regarding food security (similar to the discussions we’ve been posting on this blog).

I took the opportunity to speak with our young volunteers about food waste, gleaning, and the role that Bread for the City takes in addressing poverty. It turns out Rev. Geary had education on his agenda as well. His church works to educate their youth about commercial agriculture and its exploitative use of underpaid farm workers. He hoped that Glean for the City would provide hands-on example of the arduous task of handpicking crops.

After gleaning 1,000 lbs. of corn, we loaded up the van and took a step back to admire our work. Rev. Geary remarked that a day laborer picking tomatoes in Florida would have made only $10-25 for gathering the entire quantity on his/her own. As we looked out at the endless acres of corn we couldn’t glean, we discussed the utility of this fresh food for our clients.

Glean for the City provided a rare opportunity for education in agriculture. Most of our volunteers had never been to a farm, and none had ever worked in a field. Picking produce is a strenuous activity, and I’m glad we’re able to provide this type of exposure to our volunteers while being able to help our clients access nutritional foods.

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Corn for the City

>http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649
Our gleaning initiative begins!

Early Saturday morning I took a beautiful country drive to Parker Farms in Colonial Beach, Virginia. I was on my way to Glean for the City’s inaugural event. As the event coordinator, I must admit, I was a little nervous. But that quickly turned to excitement as enthusiastic volunteers began to arrive. After a quick rundown of the gleaning process our group of 10 headed to the fields to meet Rod Parker. As we looked out across hundreds of acres of corn fields, comments by owner Rod Parker hammered home the scope of food waste; and the amazing opportunity this was for the food pantry.

“We have already gone through the fields and picked everything we can sell,” Rod said, “but most of what is left is perfectly good to eat. As you can see, there are 3 or 4 ears of edible corn left on every stalk.”
“How do we know if it’s good to eat?” one of the volunteers asked.
“Just give a good squeeze,” Rod responded. “If it’s fat and juicy, then pick it. You can even eat it raw off the cob. It’s like candy.”

A few volunteers took Rod’s suggestion and quickly discovered that the corn was delicious, even uncooked. Then it was time for us to hit the fields. Each volunteer took a couple of picking bags and a row of corn and got to work. And oh how the corn rolled in. I patrolled the edges of the fields, filling produce bins with bags from the volunteers. At times, it was tough to keep up with everybody! Most of the group were clearly amazed as they grabbed corn at a constant pace. “This is great!” one of them told me, “I cannot believe that all of this would have gone to waste. It’s so easy to glean corn, and you see the results of your work right away. I want to do this again!”

Before we knew it we had filled half of our containers in the first hour. After a short water break we stuffed the remaining containers in only 45 minutes. In total, we picked 1,500 lbs. of corn in two short hours.

With one last look at the BFC van, bulging full of corn, we left satisfied with a hard day’s work. This will feed over 1,000 hungry clients at Bread for the City over the next week. Thanks to the volunteers who made it possible!

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>Announcing Our Latest Initiative: Glean for the City!

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Time to bring fresh produce to everybody.

This week, Bread for the City is proud to announce our latest and most ambitious volunteer initiative—Glean for the City!

We’ve posted before on this blog about how much perfectly good food gets wasted, for a variety of reasons, between the farms that grow it and the stores that sell it. There are estimates that up to 50% of all food produced in the United States ultimately goes to waste. We plan to tap into some of this abundant produce supply so we can bring it to the District and give it to the people who would otherwise have to go without.

This weekend our first group will go to Parker Farm, about an hour away from DC, to pick corn. Every Saturday between July 11th and the middle of November, we will be asking other groups of 20-25 people to go to other farms in Virginia and Maryland to pick or “glean” the excess produce the machines leave behind so that we can offer fresh, free, local produce to neglected neighborhoods in our city. We estimate that one group can bring back enough produce to feed 1750 hungry people!

If you are interested in learning more, organizing a volunteer group, or donating to support this new effort, we’ve got specifics on our website for you. We’ll also be putting updates here on the blog as Glean for the City gets underway. Finally, many thanks to all of you in the community who have made this new initiative possible!

>Food Waste Up Close: Sorting Cucumbers

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Why waste something so good?

This past week, we made a trip out to Parker Farms in Oak Grove, VA. The goal of our visit was to get a glimpse at how our new program, Glean for the City, will work to bring fresh produce into our pantry. (We’ll be gleaning corn from Parker Farms in July — see here for information about this new project.)

Besides growing corn, Parker Farms also runs a sorting and distribution operation for crops from local farms. We were fortunate enough to visit the farm on a cucumber-sorting day, and General Manager Rod Parker took the time to show us the entire process.

To be sorted, every cucumber is loaded onto a long conveyer belt. The cucumbers are then power-washed with water to remove any residual dirt or pesticides. After being sorted by hand, the “imperfect” cucumbers are placed on a separate conveyer belt headed towards a large dump truck.

Cucumbers are rejected for several reasons:

A. They are too curvy for efficient packaging.
B. They have a small white spot at one end, usually only one square inch in size. This is caused by the tip being buried and missing out on photosynthesis. 97% of the cuke is green and edible, but grocery stores still won’t take them.
C. They have small cracks that keep them from the market. Rod notes that, while cucumbers do have a short shelf life, the cracks don’t affect taste or ripeness.

Farmers need shoppers to buy the cucumbers they’re selling, and the market demands aesthetically pleasing produce. Looking at the truck of rejected produce, Rod told us that, “90% of the cucumbers in that dump truck taste perfectly fine and have the same nutrition. They just don’t look good enough to be sold.”

The rejected cucumbers are driven back into the fields and deposited on the ground to become fertilizer. Mr. Parker estimates that, “we dump thousands upon thousands of them every time we sort.” From our experience, it seems that many farmers would like to donate unsellable food to pantries, but they are already strapped for time and resources and don’t have the capacity to take on that additional burden.

There is sometimes a tax break for donated farm produce, but most often they are capped at 10% of market value. Given the difficulty of trucking produce to yet another destination, it’s not enough of an incentive. So the produce goes to waste. But this summer, we’ll be rescuing at least some of it so we can bring it to the people who need it most.

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