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NEW TECHNOLOGY HELPS NEIGHBORS FEED NEIGHBORS

May 8, 2020

The food recovery systems addressing food access hurdles in the pandemic
By Lindsey Danis

Photo by Caroline Attwood


Food and beverage companies are among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Grocery stores, which can’t keep staples like flour or eggs on the shelves, are a rare bright spot. Restaurants have closed or offer takeout/delivery only. Farmers and food suppliers no longer have markets for their wares. Businesses have done what they can to pare costs, but many have stockpiled ingredients they can’t use or sell.

That doesn’t mean that food has to go to waste. Restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and other food and beverage companies that have surplus goods, can donate through food recovery apps that make donating surplus food as simple as a few clicks.

After volunteering with a food recovery system that used phone calls to pair donors with agencies in need, and observing frequent delays of 30 minutes or more as dispatchers called around to shelters to assess need. Software developer Tod Hing recognizes that the antiquated system was challenging and time-consuming for all parties.

So Hing created ChowMatch, a web-based and mobile application that uses proprietary matching algorithms to send food donated by restaurants, caterers, farms, grocery stores, and food businesses to local shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries, after volunteering.

Software like ChowMatch reduces delays in getting food to those in need; donors can request a pickup with a few clicks and volunteer food runners are notified of the need. Volunteers then transport food to donor agencies for seamless delivery.

Through FeedHV, a Hudson Valley food rescue network that uses ChowMatch software, Hudson, NY-based Hudson Valley Fish Farm, Inc, which farms steelhead trout for markets throughout the northeast, was able to donate 312 pounds of fresh whole fish to a local homeless shelter. Volunteers drove the donated food, and protected themselves from coronavirus using hand sanitizer produced by Hudson distillery Cooper’s Daughter, one of several area distilleries that pivoted to address a marketplace shortage of hand sanitizer.

Photo by Nguyen Linh

Hudson Valley Fish Farm, Inc. President John Ng said, “Storage or value-adding wasn’t an appealing option, as we’re trying to reduce work to fight the spread of COVID-19. Add that to the fact that the immense loss of jobs meant so many more people are looking for support. While we are all self-isolating, we don’t want to forget that each of us is still a member of a community. Supporting our community has never been more important. ”

Providing for the community is equally important to Karianna Haasch, CEO and Lead baker at Kingston, NY’s Local Artisan Bakery. Haasch makes a habit of donating bakery leftovers at least once a month. “Everyone deserves proper nourishment, and it breaks my heart that we live in an age when hunger is a very real threat,” Haash says.

Donating leftover food is the easiest way to help address the need.
Witnessing the Covid-19 crisis unfold in upstate communities, Haasch says, “It hit me how many people are without the means to feed their families. We had to act and donate as much as we possibly could.”

While Local Artisan Bakery remains open for takeout or delivery six days a week, Haasch used FeedHV to donate 10 dozen baked goods, 10 pounds of potatoes, and 5 gallons of frozen berries to a Kingston-based food pantry that’s delivering meals to families in need as part of an emergency response to food insecurity under Covid-19. “I would typically wait until the end of the season to donate frozen food, once fresh local fruits become available again. Given the circumstances, it felt critical to donate now,” Haasch said.

While helping those in need is its own reward, donors play a role in reducing carbon emissions by diverting food that would otherwise be wasted from landfills. Globally, food waste has a carbon footprint of 3.3 tons, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports.

Furthermore, as Hing notes, businesses can write off donations on their taxes.

To learn more about food recovery and find solutions near you, visit https://www.foodrecoverynetwork.org.

If your business has surplus food as a result of closures and event cancellations, you can still create a positive impact for the community by donating that food to a local nonprofit organization in need. We’ve created a Food Recovery Guide which outlines four simple steps that businesses can take to donate surplus food to a local hunger-fighting nonprofit organization. Read the guide and take action to donate your surplus food to those in need.

To donate to Food Recovery Network visit www.foodrecoverynetwork.org/donate or contact development@foodrecoverynetwork.org.

Photo by Denisse Leon

Features

Farmers Plant A New Business Model During Coronavirus Pandemic

April 7, 2020

Farmer Lee Jones only wears one thing: denim overalls, a pressed white shirt, and a red bowtie. Inspired by a farming family in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, it’s meant to serve as a symbol of resilience and determination among small family farms. Photo by: Michelle Demuth-Bibb/The Chef’s Garden

“Farms don’t go on furlough” — Amid restaurant closures, small-scale farmers must pivot to stay afloat

By Katy Severson

As COVID-19 shuttered bars and restaurants across the country last month, there were compounding effects on all who exist within the supply chain. Among the most affected? Small-scale farmers, many of whom rely on restaurant business to stay afloat. For farmer Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio—who grows exclusively for chefs—it felt like he’d “fallen off a cliff.”

“Overnight our entire customer base was gone,” Jones said. “For 37 years we’ve worked directly with chefs,” many of them fine dining chefs like Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud whose restaurants are closed for the foreseeable future. Disney, whose parks are closed indefinitely for now, is a customer too.
For decades, his 350-acre family farm has grown exclusively for chefs. In order to maintain the farm’s livelihood—and the livelihood of the 150 employees with families who help tend his fields—Lee knew he needed to adapt.

Within twenty-four hours, he switched his business from chefs to home cooks: offering produce boxes on his website that ship directly from the farm to private homes. “We thought it would be a natural way to keep our team going, to have a place for the product to go, and to provide for families out there that are looking for something healthy and fresh,” Jones said. Offerings include a number of curated boxes, including the “Immunity Booster” — a variety of immune-boosting vegetables whose nutrition content is measured in their on-farm laboratory. Shipping, offered nationwide, is included in the price. “We’re not necessarily making the money on the box, but we felt some obligation to do it.”

Plus, they simply had product to sell. “Farms don’t go on furlough. You can’t flip the switch and say we’ll come back in 2 months when things are better. Every single day it needs to be nurtured and loved and cared for and coddled and as a farmer you have a very intimate relationship with your farm. It makes a farmer sick to see products coming up ready and have no place to go with them.”

The Chef’s Garden isn’t the only one. While supermarkets struggle to keep up with demand, farmers have plenty of food in their fields—and many are anxious to sell it. But with market closures and delays in many places, their farms are increasingly difficult to access.

“There are a lot of small farms suffering right now,” says Jones. “I feel a bit selfish saying that because I know that the entire world is suffering. But many of these farmers don’t have a mechanism to get the word out. We’re all trying to use our Instagrams [to connect to customers] but there’s just not much of a voice for us.”

If anything, he feels lucky. A network of big-name chefs gives him even a little bit of leverage. Most family farms across America have very little voice, he says. Often little capital. And little time to invest in changing their model. Boxing, shipping, and online ordering is an undertaking for those who spend their days in the fields. Nonetheless, these farmers are being forced pivot. On top of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, where customers pay up front and receive weekly or monthly “shares” throughout the season, many farms are offering contactless pickup and home delivery as best they can during the pandemic.

Other farmers are partnering with restaurants to sell their goods—in a symbiotic relationship that helps to keep the restaurant’s doors open and supports suppliers in the process.

Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo—the restaurateurs behind Jon & Vinny’s, Kismet, and animal in Los Angeles—have started selling “Farm to You” boxes featuring fresh meat and produce from a slew of local farms on top of takeout and delivery. Other spots, like Lady & Larder in LA, have become pickup hubs for farms: a place where customers can safely pick up orders directly through the farms themselves.

Michelle Demuth-Bibb/The Chef’s Garden

The pivot has been challenging for many, but ultimately worthwhile. Customer interest in these models show promise. Jon & Vinny’s has consistently sold out their boxes— and some farmers are even seeing increases in business.

Farmer Lee Jones says he hopes the enthusiasm could be a silver lining in it all. Will there be a resurgence of localized food and farming economies? A renewed appreciation for quality? More trusting relationships with those that grow our food? We can only hope.

The Chef’s Garden doesn’t pick produce until an order is placed. It’s impeccably fresh. And it’s touched by few hands before it reaches the consumer; far fewer than say, the grocery store, where produce sits in trucks and shelves and warehouses for weeks before we buy it.

The pandemic, says Jones, has changed his business for good. “This has forever created a fork in the road and we will have two lanes: one for people at home direct from the farm and one for chefs. This has always been about producing something that people appreciate and people need. I couldn’t dream of walking away.”

For an open-source database of small-scale farms and producers offering pickup, delivery, and/or nationwide shipment during COVID-19, click here.

 

 

Photo by Katy Severson