Apples store best at 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit. They ripen quickly if storage temperatures rise above 40 degrees and will freeze and become inedible if temperatures drop below 30 degrees. Keeping produce fresh – especially for extended periods of time – is of great importance to local grocers, farmers market vendors and not surprisingly, the Feeding America network of food banks.
The USDA estimates that approximately 7.3 billion pounds of produce is wasted in the U.S. each year. The Feeding America network of 200 food banks, in conjunction with 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, would like to see more of those fruits and vegetables go to neighbors in need.
According to Hunger in America 2014, Feeding America’s quadrennial study of charitable food distribution in the United States, this sentiment is echoed by families who receive food from our network members. Of the households we serve with children, 54 percent would like to receive more fresh produce from their local food pantry.
But moving and storing produce is a costly challenge for food banks and pantries alike. Transportation expenses to move truckloads of apples from Washington to even neighboring states are high. In addition, many food pantries and meal program sites do not have the refrigerated storage capacity to keep produce fresh as it waits to be distributed to the people it serves. With limited funds to keep food bank shelves stocked, sometimes produce’s inherent risks – bruising and over-ripening – make shelf-stable food items the primary choice of most food banks.
To meet these challenges, Feeding America created the Produce Matchmaker, an online ordering system that enables food banks to find the “best bet” for acquiring fresh produce for their organization. This new supply and demand matching platform connects food banks to produce donors. And once fully built out, will enable food banks to plan their long-term produce demand and to collaborate with other members with similar needs.
Now fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, green beans, potatoes and more can move quickly at the lowest possible cost to areas of need. Looking to the future, Feeding America aims to increase the sourcing and distribution of fruits and vegetables to the equivalent of 1.7 billion meals of produce by 2025.
We are grateful to all of the donors that contributed to our produce strategy this past fiscal year, including General Mills Foundation, Mondelēz International, the Nationwide Foundation, the Kraft Foods Group Foundation, The Walt Disney Company, and the Walmart Foundation. Thank you for helping to bring more fresh, nutritious produce to food-insecure Americans.
*Anna Henderson is the produce sourcing coordinator for Feeding America. Learn more about our efforts to get fresh and nutritious foods like produce to people in need.