My first week at ACTS ended with me throwing away over a thousand pounds of produce, most of which was still completely fresh. It had all been donated the previous Sunday from the VA Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardeners in partnership with the Dale City Farmers market; and I was instructed to dump it all as we would be receiving thousands of pounds more that coming Sunday. I was given the same instructions the following week. Every job comes with some responsibilities one might not want to do, however throwing away an abundance of perfectly fresh produce was something I refused to continue doing.
There were many reasons I could not bring myself to dump the produce week after week. I have worked on farms and am aware of all of the hard work and resources that go into planting, growing, harvesting, and processing crops. Additionally, the farmers who donated the fruits of their labor intended them to go towards feeding those in needs. While a portion of it did, a large portion was feeding nothing more than the landfill. This is extremely detrimental to the environment due to the fact that as the food decomposes, it releases methane - a very powerful greenhouse gas. All I could think was that there are individuals out there who are hungry, undernourished, and unable to afford or access fresh produce and here I am throwing it all in the dumpster.
All that being said, I was determined to reroute the produce from the landfill into the hands of those in need. Below are the initiatives taken in the past year, which have allowed the Food Pantry to nearly eliminate its waste.
- Putting a table outside during distribution hours for clients, community members, and staff to help themselves to as much produce as they desire.
- Partnered with the Boys and Girls Club, bringing them hundreds of pounds of produce each week during farmer’s market season
- Partnering with other food pantries, allowing them to pick up produce the day of their distribution.
- Partnering with the St. Lucy Project, a food distribution network which distributes food to various pantries.
Inevitably, there is still food which is truly waste or occasionally some which we cannot distribute in time before it becomes waste. To keep our dumpsters food free, an impoverished farmer picks up from the pantry twice a week to feed her animals, herself, and families she assists.
A year has officially passed since the day I first had throw away crates of kale and squash and it is a relief that those days will not have to be repeated.
-Bryana Shevlin, Food Pantry Manager