FareStart’s Food Recovery Program Blossoms

March 22, 2019

Imagine you are a green bean. You are lying in the warm sun on your vine, just at the peak of your freshness, and then – pluck! - you are suddenly picked, packed up and put into a van with orange ripples on the side by a smiling volunteer worker, transported to an unknown alleyway into a basement kitchen, weighed along with many, many others of your kin by more happy humans, and then packed into a cold, dark room lined with shelves.

The next day you find yourself in an enormous cooker with many, many others like you, and the aroma of your cooking is divine. You’re soon measured out, packed into a hotel pan and then into a cambro, and loaded by folks dressed in white shirts and caps back into the orange and white striped van. The next thing you know, you’re being served up to a hungry person who clearly appreciates your vitamins, your fiber, and your warm deliciousness filling them up. It’s finally happened - you’ve fulfilled your ultimate vegetable destiny!

Teams of volunteers plucked, weighed and stored hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of such green beans last summer as part of FareStart’s Food Recovery Program, which has grown by leaps and bounds – and acres – in the past two years. A three-year initiative staffed by AmeriCorps Vista volunteers is now starting its third and final year, and has already more than doubled the amount of donated, usable food that FareStart has received from both farms and companies that are reducing their food waste by providing it for use for people in need. And thanks to this effort, FareStart has become much more adept and efficient at capturing, storing and using recovered food in ways that both prevent large-scale waste and help keep our food costs down – all while contributing to our students’ culinary training and feeding healthy, hot meals to people in shelters in Seattle.

Key partners in our food recovery program for fresh produce from the fields are Full Circle, Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center and Food Bank Farm. Closer to home, FareStart staff and volunteers have made numerous post-game pickups from Century Link field from First & Goal that make them one of our largest food recovery partners, along with continuing partnerships with longtime donors Grand Central Bakery, and the Washington State Convention Center. Increased food donations are also coming in from companies such Farms for Life, Collins Family Orchards, Fuji Bakery and The FruitGuys.

In addition, a new and mutually beneficial relationship with our friends at Hopelink Harvest and a reciprocal sharing arrangement with Operation Sack Lunch (next door neighbors to FareStart) help each organization minimize any food waste that might occur with excess produce during peak summer gleaning and harvesting months.

All told, FareStart received in over 198,000 pounds of recovered food in the last two years, with an estimated value of more than $300,000. The direct savings in our budget goes back to benefit all of our programs, and the students training in them who are working their way out of poverty and into employment and brighter futures.

The people-power involved in food recovery added up to 1,282 volunteer hours over the last two years coming from all kinds of places – companies such as Umpqua Bank, RH2 Engineering, Siemens, the Columbia Bank, Microsoft, IntVentures, and Oracle, as well as families and friend groups, the Girl Scouts, Junior League, and school groups. They picked beans, loaded and unloaded vans, sorted and stored, and along the way made friends, saved food that would otherwise be wasted, and supported FareStart’s students in their training.

And every day in the kitchens at FareStart’s flagship facility downtown, our scrappy, creative chef trainers work with what’s on hand to provide foodservice training to the students in our Adult Culinary Training Program, primarily in making the shelter meals that serve 13 shelters around the city 365 days a year. Recovered produce and other items enhance the quality and variety of food for those for whom it may be the only meal of the day, while also helping to keep the costs low for our shelter clients. Some also goes into our students’ breakfasts and lunches on weekdays as well, and the bread you see on the tables at Guest Chef Night comes every Thursday from Grand Central Bakery and keeps our Guest Chef night expenses down, and revenue for programs up.

FareStart thanks the fantastic AmeriCorps Vista volunteers Ashley Propes and Chloe Knox for their dedication and hard work that has resulted in so many new donations and efficiencies! They have been and will continue to be a huge benefit to FareStart’s operations and budget. And what better way to use available excess food than to feed our neighbors in need?