It’s a funny place this world we live in. On the one hand, we have over one billion people who go hungry every single day all over the world – from the refugee camps in Sub-Sahara Africa to the people who sleep on the sidewalks abutting our million dollar homes right here in San Francisco. And yet, on the other hand, through a new program between the Wigg Party and Hayes Valley Farm, we’ve discovered that simply by going around and asking for whatever the farmers don’t want at the end of the Farmers’ Markets, we can divert thousands of pounds of fresh, (sometimes) organic, and (always) delicious food away from the waste stream and onto the plates of smiling, grateful, and gracious people.
The only thing more staggering than the feeling of gratitude and awe that I felt as I was collecting boxes upon boxes of tomatoes, peaches, bell peppers, eggplant, and other fresh delicious food for the first week of the Fresh Produce Free-For-All, was the realization that all of this food that we were so happy to receive would have gone into our landfills or back into compost piles if we hadn’t shown up and asked for it.
Now, it’s not as if I’d never thought about how much food gets wasted before; I’ve heard the statistic that nearly 50% of food grown in the United States goes to waste, enough to feed 200 million adults every day. Nor was the concept of gleaning from the Farmers’ Markets foreign to me; Tree from the Mission’s Free Farm Stand has been doing it for years, not to mention Food Not Bombs, traditional Food Banks, and the legendary Diggers who gave away free food in the Panhandle every single day from 1966-68 (although the Diggers were often known to steal their food). But there was just something about carrying 1,000 pounds of food back to Hayes Valley Farm and biting into a perfectly ripe yellow plum that drove home this unconscionable paradox at the heart of our food system in a way that mere concepts could never touch.
I cannot describe to you how easy this was. Sure, we didn’t do everything perfectly: we needed more boxes, more hands, more transport, and shade structures and bags to properly distribute when we got to the Farm. But this was not a complicated endeavor. All we had to do was show up when the markets were closing, explain to people we were trying to divert food from the waste stream, and emit our sincere thank yous as people happily let us take care of all of the food that they didn’t want to transport back to their compost piles. In fact, it’s probably best that we weren’t even able to take all the food they wanted to give us, as our biggest deficiency was getting the word out about the incredible abundance we had on our hands. Luckily, the Farm is a perfect place to host the Fresh Produce Free-For-All; whatever isn’t eaten on the spot, taken away for meals for the week, or processed into delicious salsas, sauces, or jams can go directly into the compost pile on the Farm. Saving all that gas required to transport the food to rural farms and building soil in our backyard: not bad side-effects for a Sunday Funday activity (we’ve already calculated 400 pounds of compost in addition to the 1,000 pounds of food).
What’s not to like? We spend a handful of hours each week collecting food that’s going directly to the waste stream, and you get to spend some time down on the Farm getting delicious produce, meeting new friends, and maybe learning a thing or two about food and gardening while you’re nourishing (I know I did!). Pretty soon we won’t be calling it the Fresh Produce Free-For-All; we’ll be calling it Sunday. In San Francisco. Because that’s just what we do.