In a recent San Francisco Chronicle interview, Craig McNamara of the Center for Land-Based Learning mentioned a few things that hit home for all of us at Bloomfield Farms. He said that “At some point from farm to table we lose 40 percent of our food,” and in addition that “seventeen percent of our communities [in California] – mostly children – don’t know where their next meal will come from.” These statistics stagger the mind, pointing to a food system that is not only ridiculously inefficient and but wildly unjust.
All farmers doing good work in a hungry world, especially when farms and farming are on the decline, should have no problem selling or donating 100% of their harvest. And all citizens, no matter how poor or remote, should have access to affordable and high quality food. And as farmers there is one last statistic important to mention: according to FarmsReach 53% of farms in the in the US report a net loss each year and do not break even, nonetheless make a profit. This is all very troubling, yet at our farm we know that solutions exist to addressing these challenges.
Here’s a story for you. Last Sunday about 6:00pm our team of upstart farmers returned to the farm from the 3 farmers markets we work in the Bay Area (Larkspur, Kensington & Sebastopol). We took a look in the fridge and once again, for the umpteenth odd weekend, we had brought back anywhere from 20-30% of our premium produce from the markets, still packed in the boxes. We didn’t sell out. It is undendingly frustrating to look in the cooler and see all of that hard work, investment, passion, driving miles, fuel and premium, organic-certified produce just sitting there, uneaten and unsold. There was cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, radishes, chard, kale, braising mix…the list goes on. All in all probably about $400-$600 of produce if it were to be valued at premium retail prices.
So instead of feeding it all to our chickens (we call our flock the 1%) we decided to conduct an experiment to see if we could get that ultra-premium food into the mouths of hungry and budget-conscious community members and make back some of our costs. Sure it’s great to make donations to address food insecurity but what about farmer insecurity? This is an important issue as well and ideally, solutions to the challenge will address both. So at around 7:00pm we cranked up the laptop in our farm office (a converted shipping container) and made the following Facebook Post “BLOOMFIELD FARMS FOOD SECURITY EXPERIMENT — FLASH MOB FRIDGE GLEANING!!! Please read and share.”
We offered any upstart organizer the entire pile of premium produce for $200 if they could show up with one truck by 11am the next monday morning and, after a high five or hug, take it off our hands. We had no clue what to expect but soon the gears of deal-making and community-building began to crank and within approximately 1.5 hours we had struck a deal with Megan Sweeley of the Harvest Park subdivision in Santa Rosa. Megan, who had been to our farm in 2012 for one of our U-Pick Sunday events, took an educated gamble on this offer and used Facebook to round up 8 or so families, get them each to pitch in around $20 clams and before we knew it, the deal was done and her hubby was pulling his dodge into our farm to pick up their vegetables.
- $4-600 of premium, local, seasonal, organic-certified food saved from waste
- 8 hard-working Sonoma County families accessed affordable food, nearly a week’s worth, at a great price
- Local farming family makes $200 is able to recoup some of their limited farming dollars
- A lasting relationship between Bloomfield Farms and The Harvest Park neighborhood is forged
- Chickens had to work a bit harder for their food
Megan Sweeley had this to write when we asked her for a bit of information about her neighborhoods experience (thanks Megan):
“There were 7 total families from our neighborhood and 2 members of my husband’s family. Our subdivision is called Harvest Park and we are in the southwest area of Santa Rosa off of Petaluma Hill Road. I shared your Facebook post and that’s how the proverbial ball got rolling. Everyone except the 2 family members everyone brought their $20 over to my house by the next morning and the deal was done. We divided up the delivery after work and everyone went home with delicious and nutritious fresh food. We all are full-time working families with young children so to be able to do this was a special treat we don’t always have time to make the effort for. Not to mention it was a great price!!”
The statistics are as correct as they are depressing. A huge amount of premium and perishable food goes to waste before it gets to the digestive tracts of people. A tremendous number of folks (especially kids) go hungry. All the while a majority of our farmers lose money doing what they love – feeding people, stewarding the land, building agriCULTURE and working with the dirt. WHAT THE….???
But this small experiment at Bloomfield Farms in collaboration with the “interwebs” and a great little neighborhood in Santa Rosa sheds some light on SIMPLE and down-2-earth solutions to pressing food system and community challenges. Thanks to a sturdy online community, one POWER MOM and the willingness to work together, we were able to solve a few challenges at once, and have a great time along the way. Together we helped Families and helped Farms. What could possibly be better?
PS –Some great resources courtesy of Haney Armstrong on the topic of Crop Mobs as well as a California Crop Mob facebook group created by Roots of Change