Good Neighbors

Hot Potato! See How One Man Connected Farmers With Food Banks To Feed Hungry Neighbors

His volunteers have rescued 10 tons of fresh produce from farmers on one side of their state and transported it to food banks on the other side.

You might call this this one of the ultimate "hot potato" issues of the coronavirus pandemic: what happens when farmers grow and harvest tons of food but can't sell it in their usual markets?

We're talking about milk, generated by dairies for schools that aren't in session. Vegetables destined for restaurants that are no longer open. Eggs and fruit no one can use before these items go bad. In many cases these food resources are being dumped, or simply plowed under or left to rot on trees or in the fields. What a waste!

This is what it looks like to bag 80,000 pounds of potatoes in one day!EastWest Food Rescue/Faceboo

One man in eastern Washington state saw that happening where he lives and decided to do something about it. George Ahearn heard that farmers in the eastern part of his state were willing to give away surplus potatoes and onions, but had no way to get them to the western part of the state where food banks had hungry people who needed them:

Ahern posted to Facebook and almost immediately people started volunteering their trucks and trailers. "We brought back 9.36 tons when my original goal was (one ton)," Ahern told the Seattle Times.

Volunteers are rescuing fresh fruit like apples, which require quick transport.EastWest Food Rescue/Faceboo

Based on that success, Ahern founded EastWest Food Rescue, a non-profit with more than 2.5 million pounds of crops harvested from farms in Washington's the eastern communities, delivered to more than 160 food banks in the west.

"At the time COVID all happened, the 2020 potatoes were all in the ground and the 2019 potatoes were in cold storage. The problem is, when the 2020 potatoes are done, those 2019 potatoes better be gone or there is nowhere for the 2020 potatoes to go," explained Nancy Balin, one of the organizations directors. "That's where farmers were faced with this terrible choice of destroying the 2019 potatoes so the 2020s could go in there or just the let the 2020s rot in the fields and plow them under."

Finding people with trucks and trailers to haul the produce was one of the biggest hurdles.EastWest Food Rescue/Faceboo

The non-profit isn't just helping with food security for those folks in western Washington state, they're leveraging donations to pay farmers in the east who saw the markets for some of their crops vanish during the pandemic.

Previous story: How Two Farms Linked Up to Save 80,000 Hens

"That has to happen," said Zsofia Pasztor, a one of the new non-profit's directors. "We've got to keep buying the food because if we don't, we're not going to have farmers."

"It's amazing and easily the most important thing I have ever done in my life," said Balin.

How can you start something good?

No matter where you live, you can save food and help feed others by donating to EastWest Food Rescue. If you live in the area, they're still looking for volunteers to help package and transport rescued food. Contact Nancy Balin at 206-550-9570 for more information on how to get involved.

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