Thousands go hungry each day in New Jersey, unable to afford food, unable to qualify for food stamps.
And still, every season, 90-year-old peach farmer Lewis DeEugenio scales the beds of pickup trucks, shaking his head at countless pounds of unwanted peaches headed for the trash.
A new collaboration between six farms and the Food Bank of South Jersey will go a long way toward addressing both problems.
A new plan they're calling "Just Peachy" would transform the excess peaches into a shelf-stable peach salsa, reclaiming cast-off fruits from South Jersey farms that use Glassboro’s Eastern ProPak packing facility.
After prepping, the peaches will be transported to Camden, where Campbell's Soup will produce the salsa for free. The soupmaker expects the project will yield 63,000-69,000 jars this year.
Details aren’t finalized yet on which grocery stores and farmers markets will sell the salsa, but proceeds from every jar sold will fill the coffers of the Food Bank of South Jersey.
Throw in the environmental benefits of not trucking usable produce to landfills, and the project is “win-win-win,” said Audrey Rowe, national administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A delegation from the USDA and Food Bank of South Jersey toured Summit City Farms in Glassboro this week to learn more about the project and meet some of the people behind it.
“This is so innovative, and I certainly see potential for this project to be replicated around the country,” Rowe said. “It’s addressing both the farmers’ and the food bank’s needs. We know that local farmers already donate to food banks, but this takes it one step further by creating a revenue stream for the food bank.”
Funding is vital, said Valerie Traore, CEO of the Food Bank of South Jersey, as more South Jerseyans than ever rely on food aid to survive. The food bank serves 170,000 people each month in Camden, Burlington, Gloucester and Salem counties.
“As a nonprofit organization, we always have a need to increase funding so we can help the people who need it,” Traore said. “As more people need our services, there just never seems to be enough food.”
Why, then, are hundreds of thousands of pounds of peaches and other fruit thrown away at Just Peachy participant farms? Because they’re “seconds”—fruit not considered big or perfect enough for local supermarkets. Although farmers do donate food directly to food banks, delicate, bruise-prone peaches don’t always reach recipients fast enough before rotting. Finally, it’s not cost-effective for large-scale farms to set up roadside stands to sell the fruit, especially during the nonstop July-to-September harvesting season.
Watching the peaches go to waste is the “saddest thing for us to see,” said Summit City Farm’s manager Anthony Yula, whose family farms 500 acres of peach and other fruit trees. With Just Peachy, Yula hopes his grandfather-in-law DeEugenio will have fewer truckloads of seconds to lament.
“We want these peaches eaten," said Yula. "We want them to reach people, but supermarkets want huge peaches with no imperfections. There’s no reason for these peaches to be thrown away except for the fact that we can’t sell them if they have the tiniest bruise.”
The project represents everything the USDA stands for, Rowe said.
“This gets healthy food into the marketplace, it helps the hungry and it helps our farmers,” she said. “I love the creativity happening here. This is something I can definitely take back to Washington, D.C., and talk about.”