Big ag equally big food provider for hungry, homeless

Big ag equally big food provider for hungry, homeless

Ag Against Hunger is a Salinas-based non-profit organization that feeds more than 3 million low-income people each year by distributing fresh produce donated by coastal produce growers and shippers.

Over the past 22 years since Ag Against Hunger (AAH) was founded, 200 million pounds of nutritious produce has been donated to AAH for others.

Good friend and mentor, the late John Inman of Salinas, introduced me to AAH several years ago. John was a former UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor who was a director of AAH and justifiably proud of it.

It is an incredible operation, complete with first-rate refrigerated storage facilities and late model refrigerated trucks that deliver the finest produce in the world to needy families not just in Monterey and surrounding counties, but throughout the state.

This is no mom-and-pop back-of-a-pickup operation. And it takes a lot of money to run it. The folks who donate the produce take care of that, too. For example, not long ago a donated truckload of lettuce was auctioned off for $14,000 at Hunt’s Point produce terminal in New York City. The companies behind that are some of the biggest in the produce industry: Dole, Ocean Mist Farms, Ippollito International, Taylor Farms, Tanimura and Antle, The Nunes Company, CH Robinson and D’Arrigo Brothers.

As I read the latest AAH newsletter, it brought to mind recent visits with friends who are involved in similar efforts. One is Wayne Martin. He and I attend the same church in Fresno — Northside Christian Church. He manages a buddy convoy of pickups which collect surplus food and delivers it to local charities. He often gets calls from farmers and packers in the valley who want to donate food. One is Weibe Farms in Reedley which frequently donates summer fruit it cannot market because of size issues or cosmetic blemishes. Wayne says those who receive it find 75 percent to 80 percent of it perfectly healthy, quality food.

He received a call not long ago from one of California’s oldest melon growers and shippers in Mendota, Pappas Produce Company, which had a couple of pallets of honeydews they could not move and wanted to donate to feed others. They had given away all the melons their employees wanted. So Wayne and another friend picked up 80 cases of melons and delivered them to four different non-profits in Fresno.

Another good friend, Bill Such, is executive director of the Jesus Center in Chico that serves almost 100,000 meals a year to the homeless and hungry and does not take a penny of government money. I have been to the Jesus Center several times. It is also first-class operation, and as Bill took me through the food storage area, he proudly rattled off the names of local farmers who donate food regularly to the center.

It is a hassle for these farmers and shippers to hold this food for pick-up or or deliver it to a non-profit or call someone to come get it. The economic reality is that it would probably be simpler just to spread it out on fields and disk it in or peddle it to folks who sell in farmers markets.

Of course, recipients of this food want to give their benefactors receipts for tax deduction. Wayne tells me most say that’s a hassle. They’re just happy to donate the food.

These are just three stories about agriculture you’ll not likely see in local newspapers, which seem to be more inclined to bash big agriculture than glean the good. We are talking about truckloads and thousands of tons of food.

No doubt this goes on in every community in the state. After all, agriculture is the No. 1 industry in California, and the people who are proud of that want to share the bounty with others. When someone starts “big ag” bashing, just tell them about Ag Against Hunger and others.

TAGS: Vegetables
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