According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there are about 1.3 billion tons of food wasted worldwide each year. That number amounts to one-third of edible food produced for human consumption.
Not wanting to add to that figure, an Othello, Washington, resident named George Ahern quickly took action when he heard that farmers in his town were planning to destroy their crops. Although the produce was fit for consumption, issues with supply chain and ever-dropping crop prices were costing the farmers so much business.
When George learned about this, he knew he had to do something before the food went to waste. He knew that many food banks are currently struggling to keep their shelves full, so he came up with a plan.
George began reaching out to food banks interested in claiming the crops that were about to be dumped. But when he contacted the farmers, they wanted to give him truckloads of onions and potatoes. He didn’t have the means to carry such a heavy load as he only had a car.
Another problem was that the food banks require that the potatoes and onions be washed and bagged before donation.
While George meant well, he didn’t expect that his plan would involve such major requirements.
“What I didn’t realize was the logistical nightmare, because I thought I could just show up with potatoes harvested straight from the ground and give them right to the food bank,” he told CNN. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Knowing that he couldn’t do everything alone, George started the non-profit organization EastWest Food Rescue and called for help via Facebook. Dozens of people volunteered to support his cause, including Nancy Balin and Zsofia Pasztor, who would eventually become the charity’s co-founders.
Nancy organized the convoys that would drive across Washington to pick up the produce. On the other hand, Zsofia gathered volunteers who would clean and bag the crops and distributed them through her network at Farmer Frog, her other non-profit.
During their first week of operation, they transported over 60 tons of crops across the state and handed them over to several food banks!
George thought their mission was complete after moving two more convoys with about 70 tons of produce to food banks. However, Nancy and Zsofia noted that the food was running out fast, which meant their job was actually just getting started.
“That’s 140,000 pounds,” George said. “Surely we have flooded the market, and we should be proud of ourselves, and that’s it. Three days later and there was not a potato or onion here. I realized that we need to do this again, and we got to do this for months.”
Although EastWest Food Rescue relies on food donations, they compensate the farmers for the cost of picking and packaging the food when they can. But if they can’t meet the amount, they just let them know.
As the word spread about their movement, help from the community began pouring in. The team received a bus used to transport onions, dump trucks that carried tons of crops, and a brand new Honda.
Since May, the organization’s operations have expanded. Now, it makes food deliveries outside Washington and across the western United States.
When wildfires broke out across the Pacific Northwest recently, the non-profit quickly responded by sending non-perishable food items to hard-hit areas.
So far, the charity has moved almost eight million pounds of produce from farms to hundreds of food banks and meal programs!
George’s message to anyone who wants to make a difference in their community is this:
“I have seen minutes of effort move thousands, and thousands of pounds (of food),” he said. “Just figure out what you are passionate about and what you could get involved in.”
What was once a vision became a reality, thanks to one man’s initiative and his community’s all-out support!