The coronavirus pandemic has illuminated vulnerabilities in industries that are critical to our nation’s economy and well-being of our citizens. Well-documented are the challenges facing our employment and healthcare systems, and today the pandemic is underscoring a food system that is in need of greater industry collaboration and innovation to meet a future with increased disruptions from disease and climate change.
As reported in the New York Times, many of our nation’s farmers are being forced to throw away food traditionally produced for the foodservice sector as demand from restaurants has fallen off a cliff. It’s truly heartbreaking to see farmers -- many of whom struggle in normal times -- lose revenue opportunities. The same is true of those in the restaurant industry, many of whom have taken great risks in starting their business only to see their dreams shattered.
All this while over 22 million people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, increasing the number of food-insecure American families.
This disconnect in our food system existed well before the pandemic. According to ReFED, the US wastes 40 percent of all the food produced, equivalent to $218 billion annually. In the United States, this equals roughly 400 pounds annually for every American. Meanwhile, one in seven Americans are food insecure.
The coronavirus has accelerated these trends in a one-time shock, underscoring how our disaggregated food network is barely able to respond to small changes in demand -- let alone a massive disruption. Technology has proven to be an effective tool in solving rapid shifts in supply and demand - which is where Full Harvest and other tech solutions come into play.
Today’s food system is a complex web of producers, packers, distributors, brokers, manufacturers, shippers, restaurants, retailers, food banks and consumers. When a shift in supply or demand occurs, growers and buyers rely on a handful of relationships to move product. This is especially true in the highly perishable produce sector, where approximately four percent of all food purchases are made online, with the majority of transactions happening via phone or email.
At Full Harvest, we’re working to address one outcome of this disaggregated food system - on-farm produce loss - by connecting growers and buyers with the digital marketplace for surplus and imperfect produce. Our approach is simple: create a clearinghouse where farmers can have their produce posted and a place for food companies to search for commodities they need. Our mission is to eliminate on-farm food waste and ensure 100 percent full harvests.
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve doubled down on our efforts to help farmers connect surplus produce from the hard-hit foodservice sector to new channels. We’re also looking at ways to partner with food banks to bring this unwanted food to some of our neediest citizens.
Addressing the issue today and when future disruptions occur requires the entire industry working together to fully recover, but it will never be the same as it was -- nor should it be. As we begin to fix the major problems needing immediate attention, we can also work to improve the whole food supply system from the ground up and start to repair the cracks in the chain that only now have become more visible than ever before.
While these are challenging times for all, I am optimistic by the many individuals and innovative companies who are working to create a smarter, more equitable, healthier and more sustainable food system. I am inspired by their commitment and ingenuity. As a country, we must continue to encourage areas for cross-industry collaboration and investment in promising innovations.
If you are a farmer looking to move surplus produce, a food bank looking to purchase surplus produce or if you have any ideas of how to get today’s surplus foods to our most needy, please do reach out to our Supply Team. A problem this great requires an all-hands-on-deck approach and we'd love to hear from you.