Every year at the Farm Aid concert, we sponsor a food drive and encourage concertgoers to bring donations. This year we had the pleasure of working with The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), which distributes about 30 million pounds of food annually to more than 320,000 people in eastern Massachusetts. All told, GBFB took in 6,320 pounds of food at the Farm Aid 2008 concert, which came from generous concertgoers who brought donations and also from backstage catering. This morning I got a look at the system that took in that food and got it right back out to food pantries who need it.
Steve Cheatham, GBFB's Food Acquisition Director, was my tour guide. He's been at GBFB for 10 years and is responsible for going out to find food donations and manage the process of getting it in to inventory. Today there were pallets and pallets of bananas that were donated from Chiquita. They had come off the boat too ripe for grocery stores to take them in so Steve got the call and made sure a team was ready to get the bananas in inventory and turned around quickly. There was also a good deal of food in GBFB's inventory from the Expo East natural products trade show that Farm Aid was a part of last week. I also saw a fair amount of fresh produce.
Steve says that fresh produce makes up about 12% of their inventory, which is a pretty good percentage. Steve explained that recently the USDA had begun to donate more fresh food from the commodity program, whereas in recent years the USDA had been less likely to make that food available as it was going to Iraq and Afghanistan. There were also boxes of local squash, fresh from the field. Steve explained that the squash had been "gleaned" by volunteers who go into a farmer's fields (after getting permission!) and collect the produce that has not been harvested and otherwise would have been tilled under or left to rot. Gleaning is an ancient practice and one that makes a lot of sense. Steve mentioned that provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill will make gleaning and food donations from farmers a more common practice since it now allows farmers a tax deduction for their donations to food banks. The Farm Bill also nearly doubled the funding for getting fresh, healthy foods to food banks through the USDA. This is great news, for farmers and the hungry alike. Everyone deserves fresh, healthful food from family farmers!