...and its impact on Hunger in America
“No Food Left Behind”
According to a 2014 study by the National Gardening Association, more than 42 million American grow fruit, herbs and vegetables in home gardens – and that number is increasing. These gardeners, given good soil, access to water, lots of sun, and a little bit of luck, typically wait for months for their crops to start bearing fruit. Once they start the harvest, they use, preserve and share the bounty... but the squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. keep on coming and from personal experience, I can tell you that there are only so many cucumbers you can give to friends and still have them call you a friend. While some gardeners compost the excess produce, many others simply let it rot in the garden or worse, throw it into the trash, adding to the waste stream and causing the release of methane gas as it decomposes - contributing to climate change.
According to the USDA, 50 million Americans are food insecure – a fancy way of saying people either do not have enough food or they are at real risk of not having enough food for their families. After hearing numbers like billions and trillions thrown about by government officials, it is somewhat easy to start to think that 50 million as just another number. Added together, this represents the combined populations of Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia, 23 of our 50 states and added together, you’d have around 49 million hungry or nearly hungry people. This includes one in four (or one in three if Hispanic) American children below the age of six.
In May 2009, a nationwide program called AmpleHarvest.org was created to enable gardeners who grow fruit, vegetables, herbs or nuts to share their excess harvest with a local food pantry – easily found at www.AmpleHarvest.org or with the free AmpleHarvest iPhone and Android apps.
Backed and supported by the White House, Google, Newman’s Own, the faith community and countless others along with extensive media coverage, nearly 7,000 food pantries across all 50 states, 1 out of every 5 in America, can now receive garden fresh produce from local backyard gardeners who use AmpleHarvest.org.
AmpleHarvest.org uses the Internet to connect millions of home gardeners to a nearby food pantry to sustainable and permanently create a new supply channel for America’s food pantries and a new way for America’s gardeners to help support their community. Simply put, AmpleHarvest.org has moved hunger into the cloud.
This one of a kind program has garnered an enthusiastic response nationwide. For example, “Within one hour of registering Community Resource Center on the AmpleHarvest.org website I received a call from a local family of four with 10 orange trees. I spoke with the mother of the family and she said that until she heard of AmpleHarvest.org her family was spending time cleaning up rotten fruit off the ground. Now her family can spend time harvesting fruit to give to low income families in their community. Since speaking with her, she has dropped off 8 large bags full of locally grown oranges.”
AmpleHarvest.org has quickly created a critical mass and resounding success because it does something the American food banks cannot do – enable America’s food pantries to receive freshly grown local produce. The food bank network expertly moves an immense amount of food to the people that need it but the system was designed only for processed food. It is neither fast nor diverse enough to handle locally sourced fresh food.
While tens of millions of growers across America do not know that they could or should donate excess food, nor where to donate it, tens of thousands of food pantries do not know they can accept fresh food or that it even exists in their own community. AmpleHarvest.org solves this problem and several others by moving information instead of food.
AmpleHarvest.org’s solution results in food pantry clients getting produce fresher than the food normally found in high end food stores. This is accomplished by enabling the growers to harvest and donate the food within hours of when the food pantry clients will take it home – an innovative solution that works because AmpleHarvest.org is built around the idea of “just in time inventory”. Furthermore, the model alleviates food pantries’ fears of needing more storage space or refrigeration were they to accept fresh food. All because AmpleHarvest.org connects the dots.
Providing fresh produce to local food pantries offers a number of benefits to both the recipient as well as the community. Not only is fresh produce healthier than canned (no excess salt or sugar in the diet) goods, it tastes a lot better, has a much smaller carbon footprint and has eye appeal too. Children, given the opportunity to enjoy fresh veggies are more likely to eat a healthier diet as they get older and quickly learn that apples do not normally come pre-sliced in cellophane. Lastly, by helping to feed the neighbors in our community instead of throwing the excess away, America reduces its waste stream as well as the cost of keeping people from going hungry - all because an ample harvest was given to a pantry and not wasted.
AmpleHarvest.org has been so exciting to people around the world that the model is now being replicated with our assistance by food bank networks in other countries.
Despite the innovation and impact of AmpleHarvest.org, the biggest challenge has been the support needed to sustain and grow the program not because it is too costly (quite the contrary) and not because it has not shown any impact (also quite the contrary – see our national map at www.AmpleHarvest.org/map) but because it is so innovative that it is outside the scope of what traditional food funding organizations support. The other challenge AmpleHarvest.org has encountered is the perception that, because it is an Internet based solution to hunger, it costs nothing to operate. Of course if you look at eBay, Google or iTunes, you quickly realize that behind every extraordinary Internet based solution are hardworking professionals that actually make things work. And so it is with AmpleHarvest.org. With a budget of pennies per year per hungry American annually, AmpleHarvest.org is by far the most cost efficient way of eliminating malnutrition and food waste in America. And with an end goal of “no food left behind”, it is also eminently doable.
All it takes is an Ample Harvest – and a heart.
The AmpleHarvest.org Campaign is successful due to participation by people in communities across America. And you can help too! As more food pantries learn about it and join the campaign, more gardeners across the country will be able to share their harvest, and garden by garden, hunger in America will be eliminated.
The food we eat fuels our country. Today, one out of every six Americans is hungry. It doesn’t have to be that way and you can help.
Reach into your backyard instead of your back pocket to help your neighbors in need.
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