Farmers, food banks are active in effort to reduce food waste

foodFederal agencies and anti-hunger advocates estimate 30 to 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is thrown away each year. A new joint effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency is designed to reduce those losses.

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge was created last fall with a goal of cutting the amount of wasted food by 50 percent in 2030.

“Nearly a third of our food is wasted, going to landfills,” said Tom Vilsack, U.S. secretary of agriculture. “Food waste produces methane and develops into a greenhouse gas. This problem ends up costing the average family $1,600 of wasted food and money, each year.”

The EPA reports more than 800 businesses joined the Food Waste Challenge last year, diverting more than 600,000 tons of edible food from landfills by distributing them to food banks and hunger programs instead.

“We work with multiple restaurants” in the Hampton area, said Andrew Council, food sourcing manager for the Virginia Peninsula Food Bank. “We take bread that would have been thrown out and take it back to the community and put it on someone’s plate.

“We work with farmers to get some of their ‘B’-grade product,” he added. “The ‘B’-grade produce—where nothing is wrong with the product at all, it is just shaped differently—may not sell well on store shelves. And farmers growing produce can donate straight to the food bank.”

Consumers also can help reduce food waste by planning their food purchases carefully and making a habit of eating leftovers instead of discarding them. And extra food can always be donated to food banks.

That’s what one farm family in Westmoreland County has done for decades. Garner’s Produce Farm donates unsold produce to their local food bank as well as offering second-grade produce for sale at their roadside market at reduced prices.

“The food bank comes by our farm every Monday morning,” said co-owner Dana Boyle, who is president of Westmoreland County Farm Bureau. “So anything that was not sold over the weekend, or anything that we have an abundance of and we just didn’t get around to boxing it, the food bank will come and pick it up. They come here as well as to other growers on the Northern Neck. They actually have a little route that they travel.”

Other farmers across the state allow charitable organizations to glean their fields during harvest season, and some plant extra produce to be donated directly to food banks. The 2016 Virginia General Assembly approved a state income tax credit of up to $5,000 a year for farmer donations to food banks.

Information about the U.S. Food Waste Challenge can be found atusda.gov/oce/foodwaste.

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