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Issues Of The Environment: Food Gatherers Marks 30 Years Of Food Rescue In Washtenaw County

Jun 13, 2018

Food Gatherers Logo
Credit Food Gatherers / foodgatherers.org

For the last three decades, Food Gatherers has recovered food that would otherwise be wasted. It has put it to good use by helping feed the hungry in Washtenaw County.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair chats with Food Gatherers president and CEO Eileen Spring. They look back at how the organization has grown, what it has  has accomplished and what the future may hold. 


Overview

  • Food Gatherers, Michigan’s first food rescue program, is marking 30 years of rescuing food in Washtenaw County.  Volunteers for the organization:

1. collect, sort, and distribute “leftover” food from more than 300 local sources including food retailers, restaurants, and food wholesalers to the county’s food insecure resident

2. grow produce for the program as part of the “Plant a Row for the Hungry,” “Faith and Food,” and Huron Valley Women’s Correctional Facility programs

3. prepare and serve hot meals in their “Community Kitchen” using food resources received

4. conduct food drives throughout the year

5. follow best practices outlined by the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy

6. strive for “zero waste” at their community events 

  • Rescued food accounted for around 40%  of the 6.5 million pounds Food Gatherers distributed in fiscal year 2017 and all of it was sorted before distribution to assure compliance with state and federal agencies; from the local health department, to MDARD, to the USDA, to stay ahead of food recalls, site inspections and changing food safety regulations.  That's a monumental task when relying on the labor of volunteers instead of trained staff. 

  • Eileen Spring, President/CEO, Food Gatherers, says the organization has grown and evolved from very humble beginnings.  In 1988, Food Gatherers volunteers borrowed a van and collected 50 pounds of vegetables, bread, milk, and eggs from half a dozen grocery stores and restaurants.  The food was quickly re-distributed to hot meal programs in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.  Founded by Zingerman’s Delicatessen, it was the first program of its kind run by a for-profit business.  “Today, Food Gatherers is an independent 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization governed by a board of directors and operated by 30 staff people and more than 7,000 volunteers.  In Fiscal Year 2017, we distributed 6.5 million pounds of food, the equivalent of 5.4 million meals, to our neighbors in need.”

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu