EPA recognizes Encinitas nonprofit for reducing food waste
The Environmental Protection Agency recently recognized Encinitas-based nonprofit ProduceGood for its efforts to fight food waste. The nonprofit food recovery group received a national Food Recovery Challenge award for rescuing excess fresh produce and redirecting it to folks in need throughout San Diego County.
More than 1,000 businesses, governments and organizations participated in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge last year. Participants prevented more than 815,000 tons of food from entering landfills or incinerators, saving participants up to $42.3 million in avoided landfill tipping fees.
“The effort helps reduce waste and costs while feeding people and protecting the environment,” said John Busterud, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest.
During the pandemic, ProduceGood has doubled the amount of pounds collected, which equates to 160,000 servings supplied to the charitable food system, and is working with 30 local feeding agencies, which distribute the harvests directly to the local food-insecure community.
“Our receiving partners report a strong uptick in the need for fresh food as a result of school closures, senior shut-ins and a lack of access for many to former feeding services,” said Nita Kurmins Gilson, executive director of Programs & Outreach at ProduceGood.
ProduceGood runs several programs, such as CropSwap, which includes various backyard and small farm harvesting efforts, and Big Picks, which involves volunteers harvesting in the private orchards of North County residents. Each Big Pick typically yields more than 800 pounds of fruit, which goes mostly to the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding San Diego.
The Quick Picks program involves one to three volunteers picking fruit in the yards of residents with one or two trees. First Pick allows groups, such as clubs, businesses and churches, to volunteer together to harvest produce.
The Bumper Crop Small Farm Harvesting program is currently run at the nonprofit, organic Coastal Roots Farm in Encinitas, and all of the crops picked are donated to food-insecure populations within the county.
In 2018, ProduceGood led a sustainable fresh produce recovery effort throughout San Diego County and rescued 153,967 pounds of excess produce from 90 growers. With the help of 600 volunteers participating in 260 food recovery events, the nonprofit upcycled 461,901 servings of produce to benefit folks in need of food in the San Diego area.
ProduceGood has a custom app to streamline food recovery operations at weekly farmers markets, providing an average of 1,500 pounds of surplus produce to 22 local feeding agencies. The nonprofit worked with the city of Oceanside help achieve the city’s zero-waste goal and meet state requirements to reduce organic waste and the greenhouse gases caused by methane emissions from food waste in landfills.
The nonprofit has suspended its large group picks due to COVID restrictions and has been using small groups more often. In about the last 119 days, the nonprofit has run 147 gleaning events, and so far this year has recovered 54,776 pounds of produce that would otherwise have been wasted.
“Our work to source and collect excess produce from backyard growers and farmers is more critical than ever and we are now doing it in very small, household member teams, on a very frequent basis,” Gilson said.
— Linda McIntosh is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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