By Kim Robson
Hidden Harvest is a grassroots organization whose mission is to recover wasted produce from Coachella Valley, CA, fields and packing houses. The Coachella Valley is one of the largest, most productive agricultural regions in the country.
Few people realize that millions of pounds of nutritious, perfectly good produce are discarded in packing houses and in the fields and orchards after the harvest is finished. The USDA estimates that 25% to 30% of all food crops in this country are left in the fields after harvest. Sometimes produce is left behind because it has cosmetic blemishes, or is too large or too small for its packaging. Sometimes overproduction or market fluctuations make it unprofitable for the farmer to harvest. It could cost the farmer more to harvest the crop than he could sell it for, so he just plows it under instead.
Until Hidden Harvest came along in 2001, tons of healthy food was simply plowed under as a matter of course. Now, Hidden Harvest retrieves hundreds of thousands of pounds of fresh, locally grown produce left unsold in packing houses. They also employ low-income farm workers at $10 per hour (well above prevailing wages). They also make a concerted effort to hire female crews when possible and provide a childcare stipend.
This fresh and nutritious produce is delivered free of charge to over 60 local agencies that serve the poor and hungry. These agencies include those that serve the homeless and hungry, those afflicted with HIV or AIDS, seniors, youth clubs, battered women’s shelters, substance abuse programs, and more. This win-win solution gives millions of vegetables and fruits a second life and thousands of families a healthy meal – all while employing the working poor. Despite the appearance of abundance and wealth in the Coachella Valley (think Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage), poverty is still widespread. More than 80% of the area’s children live in households that operate at or below the federal poverty line. The valley also is home to a large population of low-income and fixed-income senior citizens.
Providing fresh, nutritious produce to the poor and hungry helps America fight against two of our greatest health problems – diabetes and childhood obesity. Hidden Harvest delivers free of charge in their refrigerated truck, or agencies can pick up produce themselves at Hidden Harvest’s Coachella facility.
100% of Hidden Harvest’s administrative costs are raised by a committed board of directors. Every dollar donated to Hidden Harvest by the general public or through foundation grants goes directly toward services. If you’d like to donate, they have many different ways to contribute time or funding.
Hidden Harvest is also committed to educating the media and the public about hunger and nutrition issues. They are experienced in community gardening and federal food programs such as these:
There’s little point in giving away fresh produce if people don’t know what to do with it. Toward that end, Hidden Harvest provides, in addition to other educational programs, nutrition and cooking classes with their “Healthy Me” nutrition curriculum for children preschool through kindergarten age.
A 2009 UCLA study found that more than 50% of senior citizens living alone in Riverside County lacked sufficient income to feed themselves adequately. That shocking fact prompted Hidden Harvest to createeight new free produce markets at senior centers and apartment complexes for low and fixed income seniors.
Hidden Harvest also helps people find a good home for citrus fruits from backyard ornamental trees. This program is temporarily on hold, however, because of the presence of an Asian citrus pest in the valley. On a similar theme, NeighborhoodFruit.com is a great resource for finding and sharing fruit from over 10,000 registered trees on public land and in backyards.
In a world with nearly eight billion humans and counting, where (even in this country) hunger and poverty prevail, wasted food is tantamount to high crime. Big agribusiness needs to find ways to use much more of the tremendous amounts of food we grow.