Here’s a headline from The Washington Post website that ought to frustrate anybody who’s volunteered some time at a food bank or trying to help the needy: “Extra food is rotting on farms while Americans go hungry.”
The extra food has become available over the past three months because the nationwide economic shutdown hit the restaurant and food-service industries hard. Restaurants that remained open provided only drive-through service, losing their walk-in or sit-down diners who spent lots of money and ate heartily. Food-service companies had to endure a similar loss of business.
“Extra food” does not accurately describe the size of the problem. The story quotes a farmer in Idaho whose buyers cut their purchases so sharply that it left him unable to sell 2 million pounds of potatoes. An onion farmer with properties in Idaho, Oregon and California had the same problem. He described a pile of 12 million pounds of wasted onions, 20 feet wide and 10 feet high, running several hundred yards.
The food business may have taken a dive, but food banks around the country have reported sharp increases in demand due to all the coronavirus-related layoffs. So there was literally millions of pounds of food going to waste on farms while people elsewhere needed assistance.
The good news is that the Post headline had a second sentence: “This group is trying to fix that.” The group is FarmLink, an organization started by students at Stanford University and Brown University. The idea is simple: Provide a way to get the supply of surplus food on the farms to the demand for it at charities around the country.
FarmLink has 100 volunteers who raise money to pay farmers for produce and dairy products that otherwise would spoil. It then pays the transportation costs of getting the goods to needy areas around the country.
In just two months, the students have gotten 2 million pounds of produce and dairy — enough for 1.5 million meals — to 22 states, and organizers say they’ll keep at it after the virus threat goes away.
This is another excellent example of how the most creative solutions to problems often develop when the situation is bleak. There is no excuse for a nation of abundance like this one to be unable to feed people who have been set back by a once-in-a-century event.