…and all of those sweet potatoes you had to sort.

By Carter Crain, Food Resources Manger

Yup – That’s me!

If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you probably know that every Friday we post a photo of produce that has been donated to the Food Bank, ready to distribute to folks in need. And if you’ve ever volunteered with us, you’ve probably sorted some kind of fruit or vegetable (most likely our infamous sweet potatoes).

But how does that nutritious goodness get to the Food Bank?

Well that’s the job of our awesome Food Resources team! Here’s how we do it:

Retail Recovery Program

One of our drivers, Manny, unloads an assortment of fresh produce that he picked up from one of our retail partners.

Our most consistent source of donated fresh produce is our retail partners. Every day, retail grocers dispose of
edible foods to make room for new inventory. But through the Food Bank’s Retail Recovery Program, our trucks and partner agencies travel across our service area to over 300 retail stores such as Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Walmart, and Kroger (among many others) to rescue food, including fresh produce, that would otherwise be thrown away.

Another important source of fresh produce is local farmers. With more than 52,000 farms across the state, agriculture is North Carolina’s largest industry. And lucky for us, North Carolina’s great farming community makes it a priority to help others whenever they can. For generations, farmers have cared for those in need. Whether they donate directly or allow folks to glean what is left after their harvest, giving back to the community is part of their history.

Here are some farm fresh facts just to give you an idea of their impact:

  • In the US, one farmer feeds more than 155 people.
  • NC grows almost 230,000 acres of fruits and vegetables every year.
  • 1 acre of peanuts makes 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches.
  • And those sweet potatoes? Well, they are the number one crop in North Carolina, growing almost 50 percent of the US sweet potato crop. Which is awesome for the Food Bank, because they are delicious, nutritious, and our volunteers love to sort them.
B & B Produce

B&B Produce, Inc, one of our top food industry supporters and donors of sweet potatoes!

Farm-fresh produce is donated from all over our service area from farms of all sizes. We get lots of sweet potatoes from local growers such as B&B Produce, Nash Produce, Burch Farms, Southern Produce, Spring Acres and Barnes Farming. We receive cucumbers from Shingleton Farms, peppers from Bailey Farms, watermelons from Moore’s Produce and Jackson Farms, and blueberries from Cottle Farms,  just to name a few.

Cottle Farms

Cisco volunteers sort 30,000 pounds of fresh blueberries donated by Cottle Farms

And working with produce is a big job, so we’ve got to stay on our toes! Our drivers work hard to pick up these donations as soon as possible in order to distribute them to our partner agencies while the produce is still fresh. Once those sweet potatoes are loaded on the truck, they’ve got to make the trip back to the Food Bank to be sorted by our wonderful volunteers into family sized bags. Then they go out to our partner agencies such as food pantries and soup kitchens. Finally, they are provided to people in need. It can be a long journey for perishable product, so we work as quickly as possible!

Over the last few years the Food Bank has been able to distribute millions of pounds of fresh, local produce because of the generosity of local farmers and retailers. Last year alone we provided 16.5 million pounds of fresh produce to families in need, a stat that I am personally very proud of.

So next time you see a Fresh Food Friday post, remember the process behind it, and all of the people that made it possible – the farmers who work hard and dedicate their lives to providing fresh, nutritious food to people who truly need it and appreciate it more than you know. And that’s something we can all be proud of.

Fresh Food Friday

Honeydew melons from Jackson Farming Company in Sampson County & sweet corn on the cob from John Bone Farms in Nash County in our Raleigh produce room.