Fresh fruit and vegetables — and the health benefits that go with them — unfortunately remain out of reach for many with insufficient means. But thanks to a powerhouse Kansas City area program, a growing abundance of fresh produce is making its way to local families who need it most.
After the Harvest, a nonprofit launched in 2014, captures vast quantities of fruit and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. The food is distributed to at-risk families and individuals by area food banks and pantries. In 2016, the organization collected 3.6 million pounds of produce made up of more than 65 varieties of fruits and vegetables.
“We deliver everything from apples to zucchini and all varieties in between,” said Lisa Ousley, the program’s executive director. “It flies off the shelves in food pantries and provides an enormously important dietary component for those who depend on food banks and pantries.”
After the Harvest is the largest single donor of fresh produce to Harvesters-The Community Food Network, the Kansas City-based regional food bank that serves a 26-county area in northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas. Harvesters, in turn, distributes the produce to 320 smaller regional agencies that collectively feed more than 35,000 people every week.
The program had its origins in a similar, faith-based initiative started by the Society of St. Andrew in 2008, and relies on two primary avenues to procure fruits and vegetables: A Gleaning Network works with area farmers to salvage crops in the field, while a second program links up with commercial producers throughout the eastern and southern U.S.
In nearly all cases, the produce is made available because its shape, size or color doesn’t meet the grading standards necessary for retail sale. Aesthetics, however, have no effect on taste or nutritional value, Ousley said.
“It is not Grade A Fancy, but it is still high quality and delicious, and much of it would go to waste if we were not in a position to take it,” she said.
Although After the Harvest’s gleaning program is small, Ousley said it provides an important connection with the community by creating an opportunity to engage with both volunteers and area farmers.
“Our farmers are some of the most generous people on the planet,” Ousley added. “We have absolutely no issues convincing them to work with us.”
Every pound of donated produce is documented and tracked, which provides donors with the opportunity to claim the value of the donations against their taxes. After the Harvest also is working with state legislators to establish tax credits at the state level for produce donations.
The Produce Procurement program — which accounts for the vast majority of After the Harvest’s produce — works with large, commercial producers, as well as Farmer’s Choice, a Florida-based farmers agent that sources truckloads of nonretail grade produce for distribution to food banks and pantries nationwide. After the Harvest is one of Farmers’ Choice’s largest nonprofit distributors.
Christina Martin, president of After the Harvest’s board and a pro bono consultant to the group, said the Health Forward Foundation has played an integral role in the initiative’s ongoing success.
“The Health Care Foundation provided us with help in strategic planning, administrative support and leadership development. And they’ve also worked hard to help the nonprofits that work on food insecurity form collaborations that take everyone forward. They truly understand the importance of what we’re trying to do.”
Learn more about food insecurity at costoffoodinsecurity.com