July 28, 2013

His passion for food benefits the hungry

A Colby food services manager leads an effort to redirect extra produce where it's needed most.


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Hanne Teirney of Cornerstone and Fail Better Farms offers fresh organic produce to Noma Moyo, 21, a Colby College junior, and Joe Klaus, food services manager at Colby College, at the Waterville Farmers Market on Thursday.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

"Forty percent of all produce raised never makes it to market," he said.

Many factors contribute to that result. A hailstorm can pierce the skins in an apple crop, making the fruits unappealing. A farmer may be unable to muster the labor necessary to harvest the food when it becomes ripe. A very good growing season can seem like a boon for a farmer, until he realizes that the same boon has helped all of his competitors, creating a market glut that makes his food impossible to sell before it spoils.

Sometimes, good food is not quite good enough to meet exacting standards in the contracts of large retailers such as Hannaford and Shaw's. Klaus said he recently wound up with thousands of pounds of 7-inch cucumbers, grown by an unfortunate farmer who had failed to meet a supermarket chain's desired range of 4-6-inch cukes.

Klaus is part of a network of people trying to establish a supply chain between these often unpredictable events, and people who can't comfortably afford to feed themselves.

"My goal is to utilize it before it goes bad, especially if it's several thousand pounds," he said.

In the same way farmers cultivate food, Klaus cultivates a crop of farmers who are willing to redirect their unused produce to those in need.

He constantly seeks opportunities to add willing farmers and suppliers to his growing list of contacts. Klaus said it is typically an easy sell because many in the food industry have a passion for feeding the hungry.

While he sometimes reaches out by phone, he said, he's learned the impact is greater when he visits a farm in person.

Klaus also makes use of gleaners, or volunteers, including some Colby students, who sniff out and collect food while combing the nooks and crannies of the supply chain.

Thursday night, a small team of gleaners headed by Klaus pulled into the Waterville Concourse during the final minutes of a weekly farmers market, looking for produce that had not sold and was unlikely to sell.

The team walked away with several totes full of food, destined for places such as the Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen, the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, the Vassalboro Food Station.

Klaus said he plans to take his efforts to combat hunger in central Maine to the next level.

He is considering establishing an area hub with cool storage capabilities, where everyone, from private vegetable garden owners to established vendors, can conveniently donate food for redistribution to those in need.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling - 861-9287



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