According to Feeding America, one out of six Americans, one out of five children and roughly three million senior citizens lack adequate access to affordable and nutritious food, meaning approximately 47 million people in the U.S. are considered food insecure. The urgency is acute and screams for more innovative approaches to help fill the shelves of food banks. One such idea emerged in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2010, during a meeting of stakeholders representing a variety of points in the food supply chain.
Del Monte Foods met with a group of fresh produce companies, Wisconsin growers and other food processors; professor Jed Colquhoun from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Second Harvest, a subsidiary of Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity. The group brainstormed ways to grow vegetables specifically to meet the needs of the central Wisconsin food bank network. Colquhoun pointed out that, “In Wisconsin, one in eleven households is food insecure. Yet Wisconsin also boasts one of the most robust agricultural production systems in the country. We need to connect this currently untapped supply of nutritious food with our neighbors in need, and we have the capacity to make this connection.”
With three processing plants in central Wisconsin and relationships with a vast network of growers, Del Monte Foods decided to help coordinate the efforts of the people and organizations that could begin putting a dent in the issue. Del Monte collaborated with ten contracted growers, twelve trucking companies, one custom harvest company and Silgan can suppliers to provide Second Harvest with non-aged packaged food at a cost-effective price. Each entity donated time, labor and product to drastically cut the cost of product for Second Harvest and “Field to Food Bank” was born.
Del Monte Foods, which has donated over 47 million pounds of product to the Feeding America network since 2000, says the program has grown beyond expectations. In the program’s inaugural year, Del Monte processed 3,000 cases of carrots for Second Harvest. In 2012, efforts expanded to provide 6,000 cases of sweet corn and carrots to Second Harvest, and in 2013 it grew to 14,000 cases of raw green beans, sweet corn and carrots.
Field to Food Bank's help is especially critical during the winter. “Of particular need during the winter months is a steady supply of nutritious fruits and vegetables as the supply of fresh items diminishes,” says Karen Hanner, Director Manufacturing Partnerships at Feeding America. “Providing a healthy selection of items to ensure client nutritional needs is critical and in areas facing harsher winters like Wisconsin, this becomes even more important.”
“At the end of the day, it’s just admirable that all of these different groups came together, and we were able to make it work and scale it,” said Robin Connell, manager of sustainability programs at Del Monte Foods. “Getting all of these players to come together and work together and figure out a solution is really satisfying. We’re proud to play a part in helping Second Harvest meet its goals of providing over 12 million meals this year.”
Click here for a video about the partnership between Del Monte and Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin.