The FruitGuys has donated nearly eight million servings of farm-fresh fruit to people in need across the United States over the last five years, with nearly two million servings in 2018 alone.
The FruitGuys GoodWorks program fights hunger through direct produce donations from our warehouses and from generous FruitGuys clients via our Donate-a-Crate program. As the nonprofit arm of the program, The FruitGuys Community Fund empowers small farms and supports sustainable agriculture through its annual grant cycle. In 2018, it awarded more than $47,000 to 13 small farms across the country.
“More than eight million servings of fruit have been donated in the last five years, and our Community Fund grants now total some $200,000, all of which has really had a big impact on the people and farms we serve,” says founder and CEO, Chris Mittelstaedt. “We’re very proud of and thankful for our team, our partners, the farms, and especially our clients, who help these initiatives to grow.”
Giving back has been part of the company’s mission since its founding in 1998, when we first began donating fresh produce to local charities, while providing healthy food to those who might not otherwise have access to it. The FruitGuys has a zero-waste policy: All excess and imperfect fruit is donated to food banks, charities, and organizations that fight hunger in their local communities across the nation.
The FruitGuys Community Fund: Empowering Small Farms for a Better Future
Since 2012, The FruitGuys Community Fund has awarded more than $214,000 to 54 small farms for sustainability projects that have positive impacts on the environment, local food systems, and farm diversity.
In May 2018, we awarded grants totaling $47,534 to 13 small farms and agricultural nonprofits across the U.S for sustainable farm projects. Over the summer, they applied their funding to projects ranging from installing solar panels and bat houses to transitioning to no-till agriculture and planting heirloom fruit trees.
Farms are already reporting positive impacts from some of the 2018 projects. For instance, Cattail Organics, a small 5-acre farm in Athens, WI, that produces a variety of vegetables, cut flowers, herbs, and maple syrup, received a $5,000 grant to purchase equipment and seeds. Among their equipment purchases were a small walk-behind cultivator, which reduces fuel use and the emissions associated with a gas-powered tractor; reusable landscape fabric, which, unlike plastic sheeting, cuts down on weeds while allowing air and moisture into the soil; and a floating row cover to protect plants from wind and cold, as well as insects and disease.
“Lower amounts of weeds and lower input costs associated with reduced tractor use clearly increase the profitability of the farm,” farmer Kat Becker explained, adding, “Yield with landscape fabric was the same or higher than a plastic system.”
When the Camp Fire roared through Northern California’s Butte County in early November 2018, From The Ground Up Farms—a 2016 recipient of a FruitGuys Community Fund grant—was caught in its path.
Jenny Lowrey, who since 2013 has built 17 nonprofit community garden farm sites around the Chico area to help educate and feed her community, had to evacuate. Her daughter, Aindrea, trapped as the blaze raged, made it to a house next to one of the community gardens. Finding working solar panels and batteries and thinking quickly, she used a garden hose to soak a ring around her car and then secured the hose to the roof of her vehicle with a rock. She climbed inside, put on a respirator and hoped that the batteries would keep pumping water from the well to the hose, keeping her car wet.
The fire burned over her and miraculously didn’t fully destroy the community garden. For the two days before her mother could reach her, Jenny survived by eating the remaining crops from a garden that was part of the project funded by our 2016 grant.
Safe, but with nearly 95% of her community destroyed, Jenny is now at work getting her gardens back in place and helping people find some sense of home in the wake of this disaster. In addition to our 2019 grant funding cycle, The FruitGuys Community Fund is providing a special grant of $5,000 to From The Ground Up Farms to support her efforts.
“This was already an impoverished area of Butte County and a complete food desert,” Jenny notes. “Our goal is to get this large, centrally located community garden repaired, rebuilt, and replanted ASAP, so we can again have free food available to folks who need it now more than ever.”
Weekly Fruit Donations: The Numbers
Direct Donations: Each week, The FruitGuys’ regional hubs donate fruit to food banks and work with local organizations to increase access to healthy food and encourage entrepreneurial youth activities. In 2018, we donated nearly 1 million pounds of fruit to those in need—that’s more than 1.9 million servings delivered to people in need via food banks and nonprofits in the San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Phoenix, Utah, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and New York areas. Over the last five years, we’ve given 8,174,361 servings of fresh fruit to those in need across the country.
In 2018, we welcomed a new donation partner: Phat Beets Produce—an Oakland-based food justice project that aims to address health disparities, the lack of access to healthy food for low-income communities of color, and the lack of healthy employment opportunities in these communities. In November, we began donating 80 cases of fresh fruit to Phat Beets each week, which translates to 1,000–2,500 pounds of produce that they distribute through their community channels on a regular basis.
“Our partnership with The FruitGuys allows us to provide a weekly abundance of extremely high quality fruit to young people and families we work with at public schools, community centers, clinics, and hospitals across Oakland,” says Phat Beets Director, Asia Hampton. She added that students are taking produce home to their families and that they’ve formed a new branch of their youth program to make dehydrated fruit leathers out of bruised fruit.
“It’s been a real blessing and a game changer because of the scale and consistency of the weekly donation,” Hampton says.
Donate-a-Crate: Through this program, many FruitGuys clients generously forward their fruit deliveries to charities when their offices are closed for holidays, corporate events, etc. In 2018, a record-breaking total of 688 boxes—more than 34,000 servings of fruit—were sent to nonprofit organizations in our clients’ local communities. In the last five years, customers have forwarded nearly 120,000 servings of fruit to those in need—a whopping 2,640 crates filled with love!
“The Donate-a-Crate program that The FruitGuys created is greatly appreciated by our clients. Not only is the quality wonderful, the boxes include varieties that our clients normally don’t get a chance to try,” said Michael McCormick, director of operations for San Francisco–based Project Open Hand, which produces 2,500 meals each day and provides groceries to an average of 125 people daily, including critically ill and senior residents in San Francisco and Oakland. “Thank you, FruitGuys, for your continued support. And thank you to all FruitGuys clients that think of us each year when they choose a recipient for their fruit boxes.”
The aforementioned 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history to date. It also hit close to home for some of the farmers and grantees we’ve worked with over the years.
Our Community Fund grantees Helena and Matthew of Happy Acre Farm reached out about a giving stand being set up by Five Marys Farm in Chico, CA, to collect bags of groceries for as many as 500 families displaced by the fire, as well as those hosting them. We packed up fruit for donation and delivered cases of bananas, Bartlett pears, persimmons, kiwis, and Gala apples, totaling over 500 servings. All of this took place against the backdrop of the Thanksgiving holiday—it was one more reminder to be thankful for what we have and share with others in need.
“One of the best parts of my job is connecting with sustainable small farms and growers, as well as nonprofits working on issues of food access around the country, learning about the work they do, and reporting on the impact our grants have had,” says GoodWorks Ambassador, Sheila Cassani. “We consider it an essential part of what we do—and we couldn’t make it happen without the support of our customers.”
Elisabeth Flynn is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor who has spent the last 15 years working in the nonprofit/social innovation sector, including stints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Mazzoni Center, an LGBTQ-focused health and wellness provider.