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This is part one of a two-part series.
Every morning, employees at each of the 17 Busch’s Fresh Food Markets have the same routine.
“We pull products off the rack, which we call culling,” said owner Doug Busch. “Things go into two boxes – one if it’s not good at all and will be thrown out, and one if it’s good but not good enough to be sold. It’s still perfectly good food but maybe there is a tomato or an apple that’s a slightly different color or size, and we can’t display that on our shelves. Many times we have simply overbought, and the food is surplus. In the past we would throw all that out, too.”
Thanks to Forgotten Harvest, that food is not only going directly to the food insecure families, but helping reduce the waste in landfills.
“It’s not that much more work,” Busch said of the culling process. “It’s just being more conscious. Forgotten Harvest gives us the opportunity to give some products to people who are less fortunate who will use it that very night.”
Busch, whose stores have also raised more than $2.9 million in cash and food over the past nine years in milk and food drives, said it’s remarkable how it all adds up.
“We are a small company and we give 600,000 to 700,000 pounds to Forgotten Harvest every year,” he said. “This is a strong source of pride for our company and for our employees.”
To the Rescue
Reducing surplus food waste is one of the two basic pillars of Forgotten Harvest’s innovative model to fight food insecurity and waste. Last year they “rescued” 45.8 million pounds of food with its fleet of 35 trucks. Six days each week, those trucks comb through the tri-counties picking up surplus food from more than 800 supermarkets, warehouses, restaurants and other food businesses.
As metro Detroit’s only food rescue operation (and one of the nation’s largest), Forgotten Harvest rescues and distributes nutritious food free of charge to some 250 emergency food providers, including shelters, pantries and soup kitchens.
Even though more than 42 million people face food insecurity, the nation destroys 70 billion pounds of food each year. That accounts for the second-largest tonnage of municipal solid waste (after paper), taking up 14.9 percent of space in landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
We all feel guilty throwing out that fuzzy tomato or spoiled milk, but looking at the big picture, the challenge in the United States is not that there’s isn’t enough food, it’s getting surplus, healthy food that would otherwise be destroyed to those who need it in a timely manner. Transportation can be a major barrier to food donation, said the Food Waste Reduction Alliance in a 2016 report. Forgotten Harvest’s highly respected food rescue model using a sophisticated trucking system and army of volunteers works on several fronts: first to feed the food insecure families, and then to cut down on the billions of pounds of perfectly good food that is wasted and destroyed.
Donating to Forgotten Harvest Rather Than Landfills
The food industry is also increasingly seeking ways to reduce waste. At Conagra Foods, “We have a multi-pronged approach to reducing food waste; first within our own operations, second within the food industry through our affiliation with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance; and, where possible, in homes through how our products are used by consumers,” said Gail Tavill, vice president, R&D Readiness, Sustainability, Nutrition & Process Engineering. “In our own operations, our primary focus is on reducing the generation of waste in the first place, through better planning, less damage, improving production yields in plants, etc. Our manufacturing facilities each have annual goals to reduce the amount of waste they generate.”
For decades, Tavill noted, food manufacturers have struggled to find viable and efficient ways to donate surplus food, but there was no place for it to safely go.
“This is where Forgotten Harvest is unique … their ability to accept perishable foods in bulk and repack them for distribution to their clients has provided Conagra with the ability to donate food that would otherwise have gone to landfills,” she said. “Of particular note is their ability to handle USDA-regulated products and handle them in a safe way.”
On the Homefront
Looking at the statistics can be enough to make one feel helpless in combatting the problem of food waste. How can one person make a difference?
Busch recommends making a list before grocery shopping to prevent overbuying and waste.
“We are all guilty of throwing away food all the time – we say, ‘why did I buy that?’” he said. “People who shop with a list buy what they are going to need. Impulsive people have more waste.”
The Food Marketing Industry (www.fmi.org) has an app called the Food Keeper with tips that include meal planning and freezing trimmings from vegetables to make stocks, Conagra’s Tavill noted.
New voluntary product labeling helps reduce confusion about what’s in our refrigerator. “BEST if used by” means the product is still safe to consume. “USE by” applies to highly perishable food that should be consumed by the date listed on the package, and disposed after that date.
Forgotten Harvest relies on the more than 16,000 volunteers who provided 70,731 hours of service last year.
“Everyone can make a difference,” Busch said. “Forgotten Harvest is a great organization. I like to say they are doing God’s work. With everyone’s help, we can all make a difference. I always tell everybody, if we all did a little bit it will help a lot.”
Learn more about Forgotten Harvest, including how you can help its mission to reduce food waste and alleviate hunger, by visiting www.forgottenharvest.org.
This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Forgotten Harvest.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.