Feeding America Fresh Produce Summit

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April 5, 2016
by Emily Maris Walk

As many people descended on Tampa, FL, the first weekend of March to vacation or to see their favorite Major League Baseball team in Spring Training, 160 Feeding America network members ventured to the sunshine state for the very first Fresh Produce Summit—Feeding America’s two-day event dedicated to our efforts to secure and distribute more fruits and vegetables to people in need.

Learning from each other: Food banks vary in size and ability to transport and store fresh produce. In order to see what other food banks experience in different markets, participants shared best practices, tapping into challenges and successes faced by members of varying size and programs of different scales. With such a wealth of knowledge and experience, food banks learned from their peers and discussed ideas on how to grow their fresh produce programs.   

Learning from industry experts: Produce and transportation experts shared insights on operations. One point that really hit home was to think of the produce we source and distribute in terms of servings rather than purely as pounds, our current source of measurement. In just one example, when comparing a pound of potatoes to a pound of kale—a lightweight commodity very dense in nutrition, kale’s value shines. This insight provides a new way to evaluate the investments of time and money needed to procure, store and distribute produce to people facing hunger.

There are many costs involved in sourcing and distributing fresh produce. Items such as temperature-controlled vehicles and storage units are essential to keeping produce fresh on its long journey from the field to the plates of people in need. Fundraising strategies to best communicate the need for enhanced fresh produce programs were discussed.  

Thinking outside the box: So, how can we bring more fruits and vegetables to communities across the country? What is the best way to transport apples in one part of the country to food banks and pantries hundreds of miles away? In a full scale brainstorming session, attendees put their wildest ideas out to their tables to present their “big ideas.” Innovative and eye-opening, three ideas rose to the top and were discussed further: a regional cooperative model, mixing centers and a national push model. 

The Fresh Produce Summit generated a lot of excitement among attendees, with many commenting on how they will bring new ideas and best practices back to their food bank. Connections were made to work together to procure more produce with more assortment. 

This inaugural Fresh Produce Summit was a success and will help shape Feeding America’s produce strategy in the future—resulting in more fresh, nutritious food to the 46 million Americans we serve each year in the United States.  

*Emily Maris Walk is the produce systems coordinator at Feeding America.

Tags: Innovative Solutions to Hunger , About Us
 

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