Since 1988, Fair Foods has been rescuing high quality surplus produce from the landfill and bringing it to communities across the Boston metro area. Each year they distribute as much as 5 million pounds of fruits and veggies that would otherwise end up in a dumpster. Here Leah Costlow, Operations Team Leader, describes the day that BAG staff spent volunteering at a Fair Foods market.
Whenever we bring volunteers out to glean, there’s one question that always gets asked: “Where is this food going to end up?” Harvesting fresh, local produce is just one side of the gleaning equation, and our volunteers are eager to learn about when and where the delicious food we glean will be enjoyed.
But it’s not just volunteers who want to better understand how gleaned produce gets from farm to table. On July 19th, BAG staff got a ground-level view of Fair Foods, one of the many hunger relief agencies in our distribution network. As part of an ongoing effort to get acquainted with our partners, the whole Operations crew spent the afternoon volunteering with Fair Foods at one of their dozens of pop-up farmers market locations. Every day, Fair Foods staff and volunteers bring fresh fruits and veggies to schools, churches, public housing, and senior centers all over Boston. Much like the local produce that BAG rescues, this produce is high quality food that cannot be marketed—whether due to cosmetic imperfections, reduced demand, or an overabundant supply that drives down market prices. Fair Foods receives this food and brings it into communities where affordable food is in short supply. Preventing food waste and bringing food to families all at the same time… Makes sense, right?
Fair Foods’ signature offering is their $2 bag of produce, which BAG staff helped assemble during our afternoon of volunteering. Neighborhood patrons can stop in at a market location and pick up as many pre-packed grocery bags of produce as they need, at the amazing price of $2 a bag! Other deals are available depending on what’s abundant, but the $2 bags are what keep people coming back every week. For this particular market, BAG contributed bunches of Red Russian and Lacinato kale, and helped unload a large truckload of grapes, peaches, cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes at First Church in Dorchester. Tasks were efficiently divided up, and an assembly line of volunteers was able to quickly pack enough grocery bags of produce to fill several long tables. Even in the blazing July heat, shoppers began showing up before the market had opened—a tell-tale sign of how popular these markets are.
All the BAG staff in attendance were impressed by the unique blend of community spirit and no-nonsense efficiency on display. The line between shoppers and volunteers was completely erased, as local people worked assembling grocery bags in return for some additional produce. Not everyone spoke the same language, but some things didn’t need translation—like the crisp, cold sweetness of a grape, which one local volunteer insisted on sharing with BAG staff each time she passed by.
The heat of the day meant that the market slowed down after a couple hours, giving us a chance to chat with Fair Foods staff about the history and singular vision of the organization. At a time when it is all too easy for nonprofits to lose sight of their mission, Fair Foods is laser-focused on doing whatever it takes to make nutritious food available to all who need it. The $2 bag of produce is a simple but ingenious answer to the widespread stigma associated with receiving free food. At Fair Foods, the community is vibrant, the produce is fresh, and the deals can’t be beat. And who can argue with that?
By Leah Costlow
Click here to read more about Fair Foods
Boston Area Gleaners
91 Martin Street
Acton, MA 01720