A Washington resident started a nonprofit with a mission to save otherwise wasted food.
George Ahearn was saddened when he discovered farmers in Washington state were giving away onions and potatoes they couldn’t sell in the current economic climate. So, he decided to step in and help put the food to good use.
Washington State is responsible for growing a large amount of produce and employs more people than Microsoft and Boeing combined, according to the Department of Agriculture. Yet, most crops have been left to rot or actively destroyed because of the economic impact of COVID-19. What’s more, many residents have lost their jobs, which has caused a subsequent spike in hunger rates.
In rural Washington, many farmers expressed interest in sending these items to food banks throughout Seattle but did not have the means to do so. So, Ahearn decided to ask on Facebook to borrow someone’s truck or trailer so he could haul the vegetables to centers that support those in need. Soon after posting, four trucks and two trailers had hauled 9.3 tons of crops.
Eventually, this gesture grew into a nonprofit organization aptly named EastWest Food Rescue, and the group has since rescued over 2.4 million pounds of food while raising donations to help compensate farmers for the lost profits. In some cases, the farmers have donated their yields, and in others, they have sold produce at or below cost.
“The whole thing started because of COVID,” Nancy Balin, who responded to the plight and now acts as the group’s director. “They immediately lost all the restaurant contracts they had for these quality potatoes and onions. And since European countries were shut down, they weren’t exporting them because their restaurants were closed.”
The EastWest Food Rescue’s website states the group “is endeavoring to return that favor by facilitating the purchase of needed non-perishable foods for food banks and other organizations in Eastern Washington and distributing the ‘rescued’ produce to food banks, community kitchens, grade school food programs and other organizations in the greater Puget Sound area.”
One of the partnering organizations the rescue is helping is Food is Free led in Tacoma by Dave Thompson, an urban farmer who was able to secure 30 tons of onions and potatoes from Farmer Frog farm via its partnership with EastWest in Woodinville.
“I started the Tacoma chapter in 2015 when another food project wouldn’t accept 50 pounds of tomatoes I had grown,” Thompson said. “I found the Food is Free project and thought that Tacoma needs this. It has grown from a small table with lettuce to the 50 tons we’ve moved this year.”
Zsofia Pasztor, a farmer and EastWest’s president, began donating crates and boxes to cart the veggies. She said, “The whole thing was extremely organic and took on a life of its own almost immediately.”
Although it has grown leaps and bounds since its inception, the nonprofit organization has set a goal of raising $250,000 to donate 10 million pounds of food, while expanding its product offerings. Ahearn said, “One of the most important priorities is to get refrigeration capacity for fruit and other produce, as well as for milk and eggs.”