The FruitGuys has formed a new non-profit organization to promote sustainable agriculture practices for small farms, an evolution of the company’s Farm Steward Program, which has provided farmers with aid since 2008.
“We thought that the development of a non-profit entity was important so that we could help more small farmers across the U.S.,” said FruitGuys founder and CEO Chris Mittelstaedt of the creation of The FruitGuys Community Fund. “As someone who started a business out of an apartment with no money, I know how difficult it is to build a small business—and small farms are small businesses. I believe that supporting small farms is vital to the vibrancy of not just the American food system but the American economy as well.”
The Farm Steward Program promoted sustainable agriculture practices to farms and orchards by providing donations, including owl and bat boxes for non-pesticide rodent control, beehives, planting pollinator hedgerows, and giving microloans. Mittelstaedt says those objectives will continue in the new Community Fund, which was formed in 2012 and launched in January with the mission to “support small independent American farms in their efforts for greater environmental and economic health, community engagement, and advocacy that supports sustainable agriculture.” The fund is fiscally sponsored by Community Initiatives, a San Francisco-based incubator for new community serving, non-profit organizations. The fund’s first cycle of grants is open to small independent farms in the Delaware Valley and Northern California for projects related to pest control, soil health, and pollination. The deadline is March 1, 2013, and the grants will range from $2,500-5,000.
Mittelstaedt said that while the Farm Steward Program will now live on in the new non-profit, the FruitGuys GoodWorks program will continue to focus on getting healthy produce to those in need through direct donations from the company and its Donate-A-Crate fruit forwarding program. In 2012, The FruitGuys donated more than 300,000 pounds of produce to food banks and charities.
FruitGuys clients were more generous than ever in the 2012 Donate-A-Crate drive, forwarding their produce to 19 different charities nationwide. One hundred and sixty customers donated a total of 277 crates of fruit and produce (9,900 servings), a 24% increase from 2011.
“We have the best customers in the world,” said CEO Mittelstaedt. “So many people were positively affected by their generosity. It’s always humbling to see the effect that this program and the donation from our clients have on communities.”
One of those was Family House in San Francisco, a non-profit that provides support and short-term housing for families whose children are being treated for life-threatening diseases at the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital. CEO Alexandra Morgan said they house about 34 families each week, mostly from rural, low-income communities. “Stressed out families grab whatever food is available and if it’s fresh fruit they do much better throughout the day than eating junk food out of a hospital vending machine,” Morgan told the Almanac. She said to tell the 30 FruitGuys clients that donated 39 boxes (more than 1,500 servings) that “I love them, the families love them ”¦ and the fruit has been a godsend.”
Other charities that received donations included Project Open Hand, George Mark Children’s House, and Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, Second Harvest Food Bank of San Mateo & Santa Clara Counties; in the Los Angeles area, Grandma’s House of Hope and the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank; Umom New Day Centers in Phoenix; in the Chicago area, the Better Boys Foundation, Launch Out into the Deep Cornerstone Christian Center, Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, and the Northern Illinois Food Bank; Church of St. Luke in the Fields and the Jackie Robinson Senior Center in New York City; the Greater Boston Food Bank; Philadelphia’s Philabundance food bank; and St. Vincent de Paul community services in Baltimore.
The Donate-A-Crate program was featured in Hallmark’s Business Connections blog as one of five organizations “paying it forward.”
Each of The FruitGuys regional hubs in San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Phoenix cultivate relationships with local organizations that serve the needy. The donated fruit is perfectly fine but does not meet “visual standards” for customers’ boxes: it may be sized improperly, slightly misshapen, or have too many natural blemishes, common in produce from small organic farms.
In San Francisco, for example, The FruitGuys is the St. Anthony’s Foundation’s largest donor of fresh fruit and the only regular weekly donor, making it the backbone of their fresh fruit program. St. Anthony’s was the first GoodWorks recipient, way back in May 2000, when The FruitGuys was barely two years old. The St. Anthony’s Dining Room serves nearly 3,000 meals a day, including fresh fruit, 365 days a year. In 2012, St. Anthony’s received more than 100,000 pounds of produce. In Philadelphia, the Philabundance food bank received 70,000 pounds of produce and Growing Home Refugee Community Farm Project, 37,000 pounds; In Chicago, the Better Boys Foundation, Greater Chicago Food Depository, and Launch Out into the Deep Ministries received nearly 50,000 pounds of produce.
In addition, the company continues to subsidize Somethin’ Fresh, the Bayview-Hunter’s Point produce delivery service, with about 400 pounds of fruit each week. In 2006, Mittelstaedt teamed up with Hunter’s Point Family, a non-profit that supports youth and their families, to start a young entrepreneur group to bring fresh fruit to the Bayview’s food desert. Somethin’ Fresh was started by two young women and Mittelstaedt provided the initial business mentoring. They serve about 50-100 customers each week in the neighborhood charging from $5-$10 for a bag of fruit.
Nearly 15 percent of American households (17.9 million) continued to experience some kind of “food insecurity” in 2012, meaning there were times during the year that they were unable to or uncertain if they would be able to acquire enough food to feed everyone in their household, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. This percentage has remained basically unchanged since 2008, further proof of the need for generosity to help those in need.
“If you have been lucky enough to succeed in business, it is my belief that you then have a responsibility to try and make the world a better place and help those in need,” said Mittelstaedt of The FruitGuys commitment to its GoodWorks program.
2012 GoodWorks By the Numbers:
- 277 boxes donated
- 19 charities served
- 160 donor clients
- 9,900 servings of produce
- increase of 24% from 2011
Ongoing Weekly Donations
- 313,000 pounds
- increase of 4% from 2011
Disclosure: the author is married to Chris Mittelstaedt and a member of the advisory board of The FruitGuys Community Fund.