In a year when more people continued to struggle with less, The FruitGuys GoodWorks program responded to the realities of the continuing hard economy by making micro-loans to farmers; increasing donations of fresh produce to food pantries; and promoting fresh food access for all communities, especially those experiencing hunger.
In 2010 the percentage of U.S. households that were deemed “food insecure” was 14.5%, or nearly 49 million people, including 16 million children, according to statistics from the Department of Agriculture. Single parents with children had the highest rates of food insecurity in 2010. And single women with children made up 20% of those with very low food security, in other words they went hungry at times. Meanwhile food prices are expected to rise about 3% next year, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.
“I have a deep-seated belief that if you have been lucky enough to succeed in business that you have a responsibility to try and make the world a better place and help those in need,” says Chris Mittelstaedt, The FruitGuys founder and CEO. “I’m very thankful for our customers whose business with us allows us to grow our GoodWorks program and fulfill this mission. But there is always more to do.”
The GoodWorks program has two core missions: to help farmers become more environmentally sustainable and economically secure and to give fresh produce to those who otherwise would not be able to get it. The company has two main programs that fulfill these goals: Donations & Farm Steward.
Weekly Donations: Each year The FruitGuys gives more than 300,000 pounds of fresh fruit and produce to organizations that serve the needy, including St. Anthony’s Dining Room in San Francisco (about 2,000 pounds a week), Philabundance (about 2,000 pounds a week) and Nationalities Service Center (about 600 pounds a week) in Philadelphia, and the Greater Chicago Food Depository (about 1,100 pounds a week) in Chicago, and about 300 pounds a week in Phoenix.
Each of The FruitGuys regional hubs in San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Phoenix cultivate relationships with local organizations that serve the needy and then arrange to donate leftover fruit. The 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.
“Fresh fruit is so important because over 70 percent of our guests do not have access to kitchen facilities, there are no grocery stores in the Tenderloin, and fresh fruit is very difficult to come by,” says Shari Roeseler, Executive Director of St. Anthony Foundation. St. Anthony’s serves nearly 3,000 meals a day, including fresh fruit, 365 days a year. The FruitGuys is St. Anthony’s largest donor of fresh fruit and the only regular weekly donor, making it the backbone of their fresh fruit program.
Somethin’ Fresh: Back in 2006, Chris Mittelstaedt partnered with San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point Family, a non-profit that supports youth and their families, to start a young entrepreneur group to hatch a local produce delivery service in the food desert of the Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood. Somethin’ Fresh was started by two young women, Tiffany Williams and Ashley Avalos. Mittelstaedt provided the initial business mentoring and free fruit to get the business on its feet. In 2011, it is still going strong, run by Ashley and Candace Pearson. They serve about 50-100 customers each week in the neighborhood charging from $5-$10 for a bag of fruit. The FruitGuys still subsidizes the business with weekly donations of 300-500 pounds of fruit. "Before I came into the Somethin' Fresh thing, I had no idea about running a business," said founder Ashley Avalos in 2006. "Fruit isn't my passion -- it's the community. It feels good doing something healthy for the community."
Donate A Crate: Since 2008, generous FruitGuys customers have donated some 400 fruit crates through our Donate-A-Crate program, which allows clients to forward their box to organizations in their communities that help people in need.
One 2008 recipient was the Sophia Project in Oakland, CA program that serves children and families who are at risk of recurring homelessness, told FruitGuys News, “Our families received the fruit and were very grateful for it. In these very distressing economical times, having wonderful fresh fruit is the treat of treats,” Peterson added, “We are grateful for the opportunity to be able to encourage their fruit consumption at home. In some cases, our families were able to share with their extended families and with their neighbors, so the circle of your generosity was wide indeed.”
Farm Steward: Got bees? The first Farm Steward project was in April 2008 when Torrey Olsen of Gabriel Farm, a fabulous grower of Asian Pears, in Sebastopol, CA, mentioned that he was having trouble with pollinating his orchard and had to pay to have pollinators trucked in. Next scene: four beehives are being installed at Gabriel Farm and Torrey has become a beekeeper! The Farm Steward program helps farmers become more environmentally sustainable and economically stable. Past projects have included donating and installing owl and bat boxes for natural pest control at farms on the East and West coasts.
- May 2011: FruitGuys volunteers and employees from IDEO helped plant tomatoes at Baia Nicchia farm in Sunol, CA.
- March 2011: FruitGuys volunteers joined Cub Scouts from Santa Rosa and participants from the Volunteer Center for Sonoma County at Gabriel Farm in Sebastopol, CA to plant and mulch about 500 trees that will provide habitat, nectar, and pollen to native insects and hopefully boost their declining populations.
- October 2010: Twenty raspberry bushes and edible trees and shrubs including hazelnuts, elderberries, blackberries, heavenly bamboo, and a rose bush that produces edible rose hips at Walnut Hill Community Farm with the Philadelphia Orchard Project in Philadelphia, PA.
- April 2010: Herb garden planted at Blue Moon Organics in Aptos, CA.
- March 2010: Owl Boxes are donated and installed at E & M Farm in Vernalis, CA and Kauffman’s Fruit Farm in Bird-in-Hand, PA.
- Donated and helped plant heirloom apple trees at Lehman's Orchard, Niles, MI.
- February 2009: FG team helps plant and graft Asian Pear trees at Gabriel Farm in Sebastopol, CA.
- October 2008: Bat boxes donated and installed at Jelich Ranch in Portola Valley, CA.
- April 2008: Four honeybee hives donated and installed (48,000 bees!!) at Gabriel Farm in Sebastopol, CA.
Micro-Loans & Grants: It is harder than ever for farmers to get loans to invest in their businesses or get them through the harvest season. Many small family-run farms are run on a financial knife’s edge where a bad stretch of weather, health crisis, implementing new regulations, or wrong market price could be enough to force them to shut down.
- 2011: $3,000 no-interest loan to Baia Nicchia in Sunol, CA. Baia Nicchia is a family farm, run by Fred Hempel and Jill Shepard, that grows heirloom tomatoes, squash, peppers, and herbs. “Without pre-pays from FruitGuys and others last summer we would not have been able to make it through the year,” says Fred Hempel of Baia Nicchia. “We didn't have farm loan options, and some of our investments into variety development, etc. have not yet paid a return yet. The loan was critical for keeping us going prior to harvest of our main crops.”
- 2010: $1,500 grant to Blue Moon Organics in Aptos, CA, for strawberry planting.
“In the last couple of years we’ve been able to nearly double the amount of fruit we can give away,” said Mittelstaedt. “While it’s hard to track the individual servings, 300,000 pounds of a year translates into more than half-a-million servings of healthy produce for people who otherwise would not have access to that food.”
If your office is closed or minimally staffed over the Christmas and New Year’s week holidays (or any other time of year), you can forward your fruit to a food pantry or other charities through our Donate-A-Crate Program. Just contact FruitGuys customer service (1-877-FRUIT-ME) or email@example.com.
Pia Hinckle is publisher of The FruitGuys Almanac.
Disclosure: the author is married to Chris Mittelstaedt, The FruitGuys founder.