Preventing food waste has become a hot topic lately, but the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank started reducing food waste before it was cool. In fact, we’ve been recovering and redistributing surplus foods for nearly 30 years.
Our motivation was to source large amounts of healthy fruits and vegetables for our participants in the most efficient way possible. And as a natural byproduct, about 65% of all the food we provide is considered rescued.
In the late 1990s, we saw an opportunity. California — the nation’s breadbasket — was home to an enormous bounty of surplus produce. Before we came along, that perfectly nutritious produce was left in the field to rot or be plowed under. We thought, “That’s a lot of food that could be helping hungry people.”
In response, we developed a program that is now called Farm to Family, spearheaded by Food Bank Board Member Gary Maxworthy. Through the program, farmers donated truckloads of fresh fruits and vegetables to the Food Bank. We brought them to our pantries, and our participants were so grateful.
The program proved to be overwhelmingly successful and generated enough produce to share with food banks across the state. Due to the program’s growth, administration was transferred to the California Association of Food Banks in 2005.
Farm to Family now serves a statewide network of 43 food banks, providing 150 million pounds of produce every year. In April 2016, Farm to Family shipped its 1,000,000,000th pound of produce! Yes, you read those zeros right — 1 billion!
In addition to providing millions of people with healthy food, we’ve diverted millions of pounds of waste from landfills. Producing food that no one eats wastes water, fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, fuel, and land — and we’ve interrupted that process.
We also help our pantry participants make the most out of the food they receive by educating them about how to preserve and prepare the food — ensuring that every ounce of nutrition goes as far as possible. Did you know, for example, that milk is safe to drink a full 7 days after the expiration date? Check out our handy tool that explains food expiration dates and how long foods are safe for consumption.
We started our Farm to Family program with our hearts set on providing more healthy fruits and vegetables to people in need. And we’re thrilled that we’ve been able to not only help the people we serve, but also be a leader in the food waste movement.