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Big Impact from a Small Kitchen

I recently traveled to Columbus, Ohio with Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini and stopped by Southside Roots Café, Market and Kitchen for lunch. The restaurant makes delicious food from locally-sourced seasonal ingredients, but what really sets it apart is how it charges customers for that food.

Southside Roots Café uses a pay-what-you-can approach that allows everyone to eat nutritious, delicious food, regardless of their income. Housed in a former school building owned and operated by the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, the café and an adjacent fresh food market provide fresh, affordable, nutritious food to the local community. Weekly community meals, along with a kids’ meal program for students at a nearby development center and visitors to the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus, round out the food bank’s creative approach to serving families and children in need.

Tapping into the Economic Potential of Local Food Through Local Foods, Local Places

Cross-posted from the White House Rural Council blog:

At USDA, we understand the enormous market potential of local food. Industry estimates suggest that local food sales in America have nearly doubled in recent years, jumping from $5 billion in 2008 to $11.7 billion in 2014. We’ve invested more than $800 million in 29,100 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects over the past six years to help farmers, ranchers and rural businesses tap into that market.

Indeed, local food is a national phenomenon that has significant impact on every state’s economy. But local food is not only a business opportunity for agriculture, it can also be a development tool that allows communities to maximize the impact of what is grown and made locally. Local food projects can help grow local food economies and drive downtown and neighborhood revitalization, which is what the Administration’s Local Foods, Local Places initiative is all about. And this year, the initiative is particularly focused on ensuring that kids and families in need have an opportunity to benefit from the development of local food systems. This initiative is part of the White House Rural Council’s “Rural Impact” effort to improve quality of life and upward mobility for kids and families in rural and tribal communities.

USDA Federal Marketing Orders Help Reduce Food Waste

USDA’s Food Waste Challenge is underway and federal marketing orders for fruits and vegetables continue to help out in the food donation effort. Under these industry self-help programs that are overseen by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), groups decide minimum quality standards that benefit the entire industry. When products do not meet a marketing order’s quality standards but are still edible, they can be diverted to secondary markets to minimize food waste while increasing producer returns.

When this occurs, businesses have a couple of options: send the food to the processed market, donate the food to charities and food banks, or process the food into livestock feed. Nearly half of the active fruit and vegetable marketing orders also include comparable import regulations to ensure foreign products meet the same quality standards as those produced domestically.

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge at 4,000

Four-thousand and counting! 4,024 to be exact. That is the number of participants in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge at the end of April, 2015.

These participants-- businesses, schools and organizations from across the country— are working to reduce food loss and waste in their operations.  And, they have taken the time to join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge by sharing their activities on the USDA Food Waste Challenge website or working with EPA experts to measure their food waste reductions through the Food Recovery Challenge.

Farmers Help Fight Food Waste by Donating Wholesome Food

Sometimes Mother Nature and hard work come together to produce a bountiful harvest on the farm.  But what if the grocery store, distributor, or processor that the farmer sells to can’t handle any excess?  Or, what if a percentage of the crop turns out too big, too small, or oddly shaped and no one will buy it?  Organizations across the country are working with farmers to get this wholesome produce to people who need it.

Many farms may want to donate directly to a food bank, but are discouraged because they currently can’t claim a tax deduction for the donations. To help farms offset the costs of the labor required to harvest the crop and the packaging to transport it, many food banks and food recovery groups are able to assist the farmer with the “pick and pack out” (PPO) cost.  The PPO cost can be very beneficial to a farmer.  Chris Pawelski, a fourth generation onion farmer at Pawelski farms in Goshen, New York, donates his nutritious-but-undersized onions to City Harvest.  City Harvest is a food rescue organization in New York City that has been connecting good, surplus food with hungry New Yorkers since 1982.  The PPO cost that is paid to Pawelski by City Harvest in some years was the determining factor in keeping his farm from losing money.

New York's City Harvest Wins U.S. Food Waste Challenge Competition

Beginning in August, food banks across the country competed to see who could sign up the most food donors to the U.S. Food Waste Challenge.  From among the 200 food banks in the Feeding America network, the champion is City Harvest in New York City, which won by signing up 114 donors to the Challenge.  City Harvest will have a private meeting with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and will be awarded six suite tickets to attend either an NBA or NHL game at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.  The tickets were donated by Monumental Sports and Entertainment (MSE), owner of the Washington Capitals, Mystics, Wizards, and Verizon Center.  Since 2011, MSE has recovered and donated 7,377 pounds of wholesome unsold food from its events to D.C. Central Kitchen, which translates to approximately 5,600 meals.

"We appreciate City Harvest's longstanding commitment to food rescue and congratulate them for signing up the most food donors to the U.S. Food Waste Challenge," said Secretary Vilsack.  "The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on earth, but too much of this food goes to waste. Organizations like City Harvest get this food to people who need it while reducing the amount of food that ends up in our country's landfills."

Secretary's Column: Celebrating Our Nation's Agricultural Abundance this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest and the abundance of food we are able to share with our friends and family. This Thanksgiving, take a moment to thank the farmers and ranchers who make our nation’s agricultural abundance possible. Without them, the safe, abundant and affordable food we’ll put on our tables at Thanksgiving would not be possible.

At the same time, this Thanksgiving, it is important to remember those less fortunate. Many people will donate time, food or other resources to a food bank to brighten the holiday for families in their communities, and I am proud to say that many USDA employees are among them. I am also proud that through our People’s Garden Initiative, we’ve been able to donate 3.9 million pounds of fresh produce to food banks across the country over the last few years.

Federal Employees Help to Knock Out Hunger

When I became National Program Manager for the 2014 Feds Feeds Families campaign—the sixth annual, nationwide food drive of Federal employees—I challenged Federal employees nationwide to help knock out hunger by supporting this year’s initiative.  I had every confidence that our Nation’s civil servants would step up in a huge way.  Feds have a tradition of generosity and answering the call whenever, wherever, and however they are needed.  Even so, this year’s results far exceeded my expectations:  14.8 million pounds of donated food went to food banks and pantries across the country.  That’s 7,400 tons of food this year.

Since 2009, the campaign has donated almost 39 million pounds of food to families and individuals in need.  All Federal agencies across the country participated.  Federal employees donated both perishable and non-perishable food items throughout the summer.  This year Feds Feed Families also encouraged employees to take advantage of gleaning (clearing fields of unused produce).

Food Bank Partner Sign-up Competition Extended to September 15 with New "Suite" Incentive

Food banks around the country have engaged in a friendly competition all month long to get the most food donors to sign up as participants in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, with the food bank that signs up the most donors to be honored in an event hosted by the Department of Agriculture.  We are now extending the deadline for the competition to September 15th.

If you are still on the fence, maybe the experience of one of our Challenge partners will convince you.

Volunteers Help Americans Eat More Greens

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Most of us were reminded every night to eat the veggies on our childhood dinner plates.  And for good reason, too.  Veggies are packed with the nutrients that are essential to good health and, as you may already know, greens are nutritional powerhouses.  Dark, leafy greens are full of antioxidants like vitamin A, C and E, as well as B vitamins, calcium, iron, protein, fiber and even essential fatty acids. But not everyone is able to adorn their plates with these “edible emeralds.” That’s where a group of federal employees stepped in.