As food banks across the country try to meet demand, produce from countless farms is going to waste. The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates that roughly 30 percent of food goes to waste across the food supply chain, from farm to consumer. Many people are already aware of organizations such as City Harvest and Rethink Food which rescue food from stores and restaurants to distribute to those in need, but less attention is paid to the waste that can be rescued directly from the source: farms and other food producers. As a result of the pandemic, many farms do not receive the same demand from restaurants, hotels, schools, etc. This leads to massive surpluses that are dumped despite many Americans remaining vulnerable to supply shortages. Surpluses are dumped for a variety of reasons, such as a lack of adequate storage space, proximity to the sell-by date, and labor shortages in food processing facilities. In order to combat both these rising issues, organizations throughout the country have come together to create programs that raise awareness and funds as well as connect farms with a surplus of food to communities in need. While originally an attempt to limit food waste during the pandemic, these “farm to food bank” initiatives have the potential to create sustainable solutions to food insecurity.
Below is a list of organizations and their respective efforts to eliminate food waste at the source by rerouting produce, meat, and dairy products to communities in need.
Organization: New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
Initiative: Nourish New York
Location: New York
Launch Date: April 2020
Overview: This organization’s mission is to promote New York’s agricultural producers and products, grow the agricultural economy, improve access to healthy, local food, protect the safety of the food supply, and more. Nourish New York was launched in an effort to connect agricultural producers with food banks all over the state in order to provide families in need with fresh, healthy food.
How it works: The State of New York purchases surplus produce, meat, and dairy from farmers and delivers it to New York’s network of food banks. New York farmers, suppliers, and processors are encouraged to share their availability of food products (including produce, meat, eggs, dairy products, and seafood) so that food banks can find the local food products to purchase and distribute.
Results: A total of $85 million has been dedicated to the program thus far, and as of May 2021, the program had delivered nearly 29 million pounds of food to over 1.3 million households statewide. The funding will allow New York’s emergency food providers to continue to purchase food from farmers and dairy manufacturers and distribute it to families in need.
Serves and supports: Food insecure communities, farmers, state’s food and beverage companies, New York’s natural resources, animal production, food supply, and land
Organization: A Greener World (AGW)
Initiative: Help Farmers Feed Hungry Families During the Pandemic (fundraiser)
Location: United States
Launch Date: April 22, 2020
Overview: AGW is a non-profit farm group that created this national fundraiser to improve food supply chains by helping those in need while simultaneously keeping farms in business.
How it works: The fundraiser helps farmers redirect their unsold produce to food pantries and other food resources.
Results: Over 2,000 U.S.-based pasture-based farmers took part in this fundraiser. Pigeon River Farm, part of the campaign, produces pasture-raised eggs which they then sell to 39 food stores. When the farm lost 90% of its sales, one farmer wanted to dump his eggs in the pond, but decided to team up with AGW to provide the eggs to the Interfaith Food Pantry.
Serves and supports: Food pantries, homeless shelters, senior meal programs.
Initiative: Farm to Food Pantry
Overview: LIFT-UP is a non profit whose mission is to provide humanitarian essentials while promoting personal empowerment and self-reliance. They created “Farm to Food Pantry” after seeing the need for healthier, accessible food. With grants from Colorado Blueprint on Hunger, Hunger Free Colorado, and Aspen Community Foundation, the organization was able to purchase fresh meat from Potter Farms and produce from local farms.
How it works: Through grants and donations, LIFT-UP makes purchasing commitments to local farms as well as regionally for surplus dairy and produce. Farmers receive funding and LIFT-UP will distribute fresh produce, dairy, meat to underserved communities.
Results: This project has aided the community both economically and with regards to health. It has rescued over 371,000 pounds of fresh produce and dairy and is partnered with over 20 food pantries.
Serves and supports: Farmers and ranchers, food insecure communities, local economy
Organization: Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities
Initiative: Local Food Relief Fund
Location: Northwest Michigan
Launch Date: April, 2020
Overview: The organization aims to find local based solutions for the environment, economy, and community.
How it works: This fund was created to assist farmers and families throughout Northwest Michigan by raising money to purchase food directly from farms to distribute to communities in need. Groundwork has partnered with three food pantry organizations (Northwest Food Coalition, Manna Food Project, and Food Rescue) to achieve regional distribution of food.
Results: With over 500 donors, the fund has raised over $130,000. It has made an effort in keeping small farms financially stable while also providing healthy, nutritious food to the people of Northwest Michigan.
Serves and supports: Local farms, families, food pantries
Organization: American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
Initiative: “Farm to Food Bank”
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Launch Date: March 31, 2020
Overview: AFSC’s goal is to bridge the gap between unwanted, perishable food and food banks in need. This project was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a goal of raising money to buy vegetables from the farming cooperative Agri-Cultura Network (ACN).
How it works: The campaign was launched by purchasing fresh produce from ACN and delivering their food to the Roadrunner Food Bank, the largest food bank in New Mexico.
Results: AFSC has purchased over 16,000 pounds of produce from 30 local farms to donate to the Roadrunner Food Bank and other relief organizations. The organization has also supplied farmers with farm materials and safety items and in turn the farmers provide their food to local food pantries. Over 6 tons of local produce has been purchased thus far.
Serves and supports: Roadrunner food bank, sustainable farms, senior citizens, New Mexican farms, relief agencies and food banks in Albuquerque, Espanola and Taos
Organization: Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative
Initiative: Feeding local families and supporting local farms
Location: Upstate New York
Launch Date: March 13, 2020
Overview: The group delivers food to households in the Kingston City School District in cooperation with the YMCA, Family of Woodstock, People’s Place, and Project Resilience. They take requests through their emergency food hotline; anyone who requests food can access the program.
How it works: After a winter farmer’s market was cancelled, the group started a GoFundMe campaign. Proceeds go to buy produce from Hudson Valley growers which create meals for families in need.
Results: The campaign has raised nearly $14,000 with over 200 donors. The proceeds go to buying produce from Hudson Valley growers to fill grocery bags and provide meals for families and children.
Serves and supports: Kingston City School District, local families and farmers in need
Organization: Food Finders
Initiative: The Farmlink Project
Launch Date: March, 2020
Overview: A non-profit created by two college students who decided to fight food insecurity by repurposing surplus produce. Made up of over 250 college students and graduates, the team has delivered millions of pounds of farm fresh produce that would have otherwise been wasted.
How it works: This project acts as a “link” to fix the broken food supply chain by connecting “farmers to food banks”. The Farmlink Project receives donations, students source unsold produce, and produce is then transported to foodbanks/
Results: 30,889,744 pounds of food have been moved and 36,434,200 pounds of co2 prevented. Every $100 raised can feed a family of four for a month.
Serves and supports: Food banks, families in need
Organization: Binghamton Food Rescue (BFR)
Location: Binghamton, NY
Overview: BFR is a nonprofit that aims to eliminate food waste, improve food access, and promote an equitable and sustainable food system. Their distribution centers are located at community centers, local parks, and other accessible locations in the Binghamton area.
How it works: The organization collects perishable food from local farms and redistributes it as meals and groceries to individuals and communities without access to healthy, affordable foods. BFR also encourages donations to be delivered to local homes.
Results: Over 47,000 pounds of food have been salvaged through their repurposing.
Serves and supports: Food insecure communities in Binghamton, NY, no-cost grocery programs
Organization: Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and Farmers Guild
Initiative: Farm to Market
Launch Date: 1978
Overview: CAFF and the Farmers Guild is a nonprofit whose goal is to create a more sustainable food system.
How it works: The organization works alongside farmers to redirect produce into the hands of the consumer in order to eliminate a surplus of food and food waste. By connecting farms to businesses, this nonprofit is ensuring that supply and demand grow together.
Results: The team responded to the 2017 North Bay fires by organizing relief efforts and emergency food recovery and raised thousands of dollars to support impact farmers and farms. They offer workshops, demos, panels, and networking opportunities for farmers, ranchers, local food advocates, and more.
Serves and supports: Family farms, communities in need, ecosystem, consumers, food service directors, school children, low income populations, hospitals
Organization: Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming
Initiative: Food Access Initiative Fund
Location: Hudson Valley, New York
Launch Date: April 17, 2020
Overview: The center’s mission is to ensure that Hudson Valley is a region defined by food, where farming thrives. The fund was launched to help increase access to regional food. pay farmers to donate their surplus food to local food pantries.
How it works: The funds cover the cost of Glynwood’s farm’s donations to local food access and emergency food efforts.
Results: The fund has raised over $31,000 and has plans to expand the program further.
Serves and supports: Local food pantries (The Phillipstown Food Pantry; Vineyard Church Pantry; Fred’s Pantry in Peekskill; Second Chance Foods), farmers, and families in need
Organization: The Good Shepherd Food Bank
Initiative: Mainers Feeding Mainers
Launch Date: 2010
Overview: The Good Shepherd Food Bank created Mainers Feeding Mainers to support a sustainable and robust food system throughout the state. The program is a collaboration between the Food Bank and Maine farms, dairies, fisheries, and other local producers with a goal to eliminate hunger in Maine.
How it works: The program distributes food through the following channels: Farm to pantry, a food access partner picks up produce from a farm and delivers to a food bank or pantry; Farm to warehouse, farmers drop off at either the Auburn warehouse or Hampden warehouse. From there, food access partners pick up the produce and deliver it throughout the state using its mobile pantry.
Results: The organization has been able to supply fresh produce, seafood, dairy, and grains to a network of 400 local food access partners. 180 local food access partners receive food directly from a farm.
Serves and supports: Families in need, rural communities, farms/farmers, local food producing businesses
Organizations: United States of Hope, United After Duty, Joint Operation Mariposa, and United Veterans Council
Initiative: Great Montana Potato Drive
Location: Helena, Montana
Launch Date: May, 2020
Overview: Four veteran organizations united to hold the Great Montana Potato Drive to symbolize the community coming together to help one another as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How it works: Instead of farmers throwing away surplus potatoes, they agree to donate them.
Results: The drive gave away roughly 40,000 pounds of potatoes across Montana.
Serves and supports: People in need across multiple Montana cities
Organization: Tanaka Farms
Initiative: Farm-to-Fresh Voucher Program and Helping Farms Feed Families
Location: Irvine, California
Launch Date: 2020
Overview: Tanaka farms works with many organizations to develop programs to provide food relief. The Farm-to-Fresh program aids students experiencing financial hardships due to the pandemic.
How it works: Through the Farm-to-Fresh Voucher program, students receive vouchers to access local, healthy produce from Tanaka Farms at the Tanaka Farms Drive-Thru Produce Stand. The Helping Farms Feed Families initiative uses donations and support from local organizations to connect healthy, local food with families who need it.
Results: This year, the Farm-to-Fresh voucher program, working with the FRESH Basic Needs hub at UCI, raised almost $2 million. The Helping Farms Feed Families initiative has been able to source healthy, fresh food to be turned into community care packages which have been distributed to over 3,500 families.
Serves and supports: University of California Irvine students, families in need, local farmers and food makers struggling due to decrease in business
Organization: Vermont Foodbank
Initiative: Vermonters Feeding Vermonters
Location: Barre, Vermont
Launch Date: 2018
Overview: The Vermont Foodbank is the largest hunger relief organization in the state, providing healthy and nutritious food through a network of over 300 community partners. Vermonters Feeding Vermonters supports both community members facing hunger as well as supporting the state’s agricultural economy.
How it works: This program purchases high quality food directly from local Vermont farms to distribute to those in need. The Vermont Foodbank and farmers agree upon a quantity, price, and delivery schedule prior to the growing season. During that season, farmers provide regular deliveries to the food bank branches. The Vermont Foodbank then distributes the food to people facing hunger through its community partners and programs such as VeggieVanGo, ensuring that fresh food is being delivered to communities across the state.
Results: This program ensures improved health for Vermonters facing hunger, security for farmers, a stronger Vermont economy, and a reduced environmental footprint. There was an estimated $1.6 million stimulus to Vermont’s economy in 2020. All 14 counties in Vermont are served by the program.
Serves and supports: Local communities in need, food shelves, meal sites, senior centers, after-school programs, schools and hospitals.
Initiative: Abundantly Good
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Launch Date: June 19, 2018
Overview: Philabundance is the largest hunger relief organization in Greater Philadelphia. Philabundance rescues, purchases, and accepts donated food. In 2017, the organization distributed 25 million pounds through its own programs and a network of 350 partner agencies. Roughly 70% of the food distributed was rescued. The organization launched Abundantly Good, a retail food brand featuring healthy products, proceeds of which go to rescue and produce free, high-quality food for local people experiencing hunger.
How it works: Using retail sales to fund the rescue of unused dairy produce from Lancaster farmers, Abundantly Good provided those food resources, for free, to those in need. It helps farmers by increasing revenue and the community by providing free, healthy, and local food.
Results: Philabundance serves more than 90,000 people each week in nine different counties. Of those served, 30% are children and 16% are seniors. So far, sales have enabled $9,000 to be contributed toward the rescue and processing of excess milk into high-quality cheese for the community. In collaboration with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, Chester County Food Bank, and the Pennsylvania dairy industry, this initiative has saved 12 tanker loads of surplus milk by using it to create 66,000 pounds of cheese made for struggling community members throughout Pennsylvania.
Serves and supports: Local farms and communities, foodbanks
Organization: Vita Plus
Initiative: Vita Plus Serving Customers and Rural Communities Project
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Launch Date: April, 2020
Overview: Vita Plus is a Madison-based animal feed and technology company.
How it works: The company funded the project with $100,000 to purchase dairy and meat products from producers and contribute them to local food pantries, school-based meal assistance programs, and other local food security efforts.
Results: The project has provided around 8,700 pounds of meat to several food banks through its partnership with Vita Plus.
Serves and supports: Poynette Area Community Food Pantry, rural communities, dairy/swine/beef producers
States are Investing in Farm to Food Bank Programs, FoodPrint
Food Waste: Food by the Numbers, Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center
How We Fight Food Waste in the U.S., Feeding America
City Harvest, Rescuing Food for NYC, City Harvest