Local farmers are stepping in to ensure no families in need go hungry.

Bob Branham was at his office on a Friday morning when he got an exciting call from a farmer offering him 40,000 pounds of green beans.

“[He] said, ‘I have a field of green beans that have to be picked right now. I have a choice. I can pick them and ship them all to you, free of charge, or I can just leave them in the field,’” Branham remembers.

Leaving them in the field would be great for his soil, the farmer explained, but he’d prefer that the produce goes to better use: feeding hungry families.


Photo by Freddie Collins/Unsplash.

So he called Branham, who works as the Director of Produce Strategy at Second Harvest Heartland, a food bank in Saint Paul, Minnesota

These calls aren’t uncommon; in fact, they play a major role in Second Harvest Heartland and food banks’ efforts to continue providing healthy food for families in need.

40 million Americans don’t have consistent access to nutritious, healthy food, such as fruits and vegetables. This is often due to a combination of economic struggle, and the logistics of trying to find a store with affordable, fresh produce, rather than a corner store stocked with potato chips and ramen.

But the good news is, farmers — both big and small — are helping address the problem.

Surpluses - which occur frequently due to supply and demand shifts, favorable weather or the inability to sell or harvest crops in time - can leave farmers in a bind. Like the farmers Branham works with, they have to decide whether or not to donate, which introduces its own issues. After all, what can a single food bank do with 40,000 pounds of green beans?

“We [end up] getting surplus produce into food banks and we can’t use it [all] ourselves,” Branham explains. “It ends up going to waste in some way.”

If this food doesn’t go to waste, however,  it could help a lot of families.

Think of it this way: The average meal weighs 1.2 lbs of food, give or take. In theory, Branham explains, 40,000 lbs of green beans could end up being about 33,000 “meals.” But since green beans aren’t themselves an entire meal, they could be combined with other rescued food, feeding upwards of a hundred thousand people.

So to ensure that surplus food gets where it’s needed most, Branham focuses on a powerful solution: produce cooperatives.

Produce co-ops, found at food banks like Second Harvest Heartland, function like a “hub” for food banks in their region. They receive donated fruits and vegetables and make sure they’re distributed to food banks that need them, rather than to locations where they’ll go to waste.

When large amounts of produce first arrive at a produce co-op, they’re first stored in a refrigerated warehouse. From there, the produce is “mixed” —  packaged up with other types of fruits and veggies. The co-ops then track and ship the produce off to where it needs to go, in just the right amounts.

Photo by Dane Deaner/Unsplash.

“That way, food banks can take on the amount of produce that they are able to distribute themselves, so they’re not wasting any either,” Branham says.

Farmers like Larry Alsum of Alsum Farms, which donates millions of pounds of surplus potatoes every year to produce cooperatives, are enthusiastic about their potential for impact.

“Nutrition for every human being is a fundamental need,” he says. “As a farmer who has been blessed to always have plenty of food myself, that [is] one of my passions in life . . . to provide food security for all.”

And for farmers like Alsum, feeding families is just one part of what makes produce co-ops great. It’s about the environmental impact, too.

“[Farmers] want to be good stewards of our land, water and resources used,” he says. “Part of this stewardship is to make sure that we keep the food waste to a minimum.”

As the Natural Resources Defense Council reports, the environmental impact of the surplus can be substantial. In fact, 21% of agricultural water use and 19% of all croplands are utilized to grow food that ultimately goes uneaten. Farmers like Alsum want to lessen this burden.

Photo by Spencer Pugh/Unsplash.

When all the food they grow is eaten, farmers ensure that every resource they use — including the water to grow their crops, the nutrients in the fertilizer that they use, and the land that they work — goes towards feeding hungry families, rather than vegetables and fruits that wilt in the fields.

With produce co-ops, it’s a win across the board — for farmers, the environment, and most importantly, families in need.

In fact, co-ops, like those at Second Harvest Heartland, have been so successful that they’re now being introduced to food banks around the country.

With the support of The Rockefeller Foundation, Feeding America now has the backing they need to bring produce co-ops to parts of the country where they don’t currently exist.

Over 200 food banks are part of Feeding America’s network, which means that the impact on food insecure families is only growing. “The more nutritious food [those families] have, the healthier they’re going to be,” Branham says. “[And then] they don’t have to trade off things like medicine or car repairs for food.”

That’s why, these days, when Branham gets a call about fruits or vegetables, he can’t help but feel hopeful.

Photo by Elaine Casap/Unsplash.

After all, those 40,000 pounds of green beans were about much more than food — they were a profound reminder about how one farmer’s selfless act made all the difference, helping thousands of his neighbors and families throughout the Midwest.

“[That farmer] didn’t have to make that phone call,” Branham says. “[He shipped] it from his farm all the way up to me, costing him thousands of dollars, simply so I could have green beans that he could’ve left in the field.”

“That’s every day,” he continues. “That’s the story of the farmer and how their generosity is helping us do the work that we need to do.”

For more than 100 years, The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission has been to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Together with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation strives to catalyze and scale transformative innovations, create unlikely partnerships that span sectors, and take risks others cannot — or will not.

Heroes
True
The Rockefeller Foundation

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

popular

Gerrymandering is a funny word, isn't it? Did you know that it's actually a mashup of the name "Gerry" and the word "salamander"? Apparently, in 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry had a new voting district drawn that seemed to favor his party. On a map, the district looked like a salamander, and a Boston paper published it with the title The GerryMander.

That tidbit of absurdity seems rather tame compared to an entire alphabet made from redrawn voting districts a century later, and yet here we are. God bless America.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Wikipedia

Women in country music are fighting to be heard. Literally. A study found that between 2000 and 2018, the amount of country songs on the radio by women had fallen by 66%. In 2018, just 11.3% of country songs on the radio were by women. The statistics don't exist in a vacuum. There are misogynistic attitudes behind them. Anyone remember the time radio consultant Keith Hill compared country radio stations to a salad, saying male artists are the lettuce and women are "the tomatoes of our salad"...? Air play of female country artists fell from 19% of songs on the radio to 10.4% of songs on the radio in the three years after he said that.

Not everyone thinks that women are tomatoes. This year's CMA Awards celebrated women, and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles saw the opportunity to bring awareness to this issue and "inspire conversation about country music's need to play more women artists on radio and play listings," as Nettles put it on her Instagram. She did it in a uniquely feminine way – by making a fashion statement that also made a statement-statement.

Keep Reading Show less
popular