Day two was so inspiring, it makes us wonder how the rest of our trip could possibly match up.
After the efforts of day one, we knew we needed a way of getting a small stockpile of food to draw on when we needed it and when the opportunities to find it were scarce. Browsing through Craigslist for free food, Lilly came across the Fair Foods Project – a food rescue programme that took fruit and vegetables destined for the dump (simply because they weren’t ‘pretty’ enough to be sold), bagged them up and sold them to the local community for two dollars a bag. A huge bag of fresh fruit and vegetables for just $2 means that low income families can eat healthily and break free from the obesity:poverty trap. We immediately gave them a call.
By midday we were waiting outside for a woman called Kim to pick us up on her way through Boston, heading over to a church in Dorchester where the day’s food was being sold. Kim was noisy and vibrant in the best possible way, talking with enthusiasm about the project and its eccentric founder, Nancy, in between honking her horn and swearing/laughing at other passing cars. They go to the distribution centres, the ‘markets’, in the morning and collect the pallets of food, bag them up in the early afternoon and spread them over 60+ sites around Boston, operating on different days of the week. They work five and a half days a week on the project, but it doesn’t feel like work to any of them. It feels like family.
When we arrived we were introduced to every member, desperately trying to remember names and nicknames and how many summer squash to be putting in each bag and not to step on the church grass (the Fair Foods team had helped replant it recently, and were very proud of how it was getting on). Finally, we were introduced to the infamous, enigmatic, Nancy.
On the phone, Nancy had chatted Lilly’s ear off about life and the project and her family and how she wanted to teach us to kickbox. Given that she is 67 years old, it was something we’d been excited to see. In person, Nancy was warm and friendly and before anything else, insisted that we spend the night at her house that evening after volunteering. She told us more about the project: about how they help teach the communities how to cook the vegetables they’re given, how they collect timber from old houses to make vegetable beds to get people growing their own herbs and flowers, how they give newly released prisoners bags of food to take home, to ease the process of arriving at a home already struggling to cope without having another mouth to feed. She was clear that whilst the local communities were being helped at the moment, the plan was to find ways of dehydrating the rescued food and feeding the world. It was inspiring to say the least.
Quickly after, we found our places in the assembly line, working our way along the table collecting potatoes, onions, summer squash, courgette (zucchini), oranges, peppers, lettuce and tomatoes to fill each $2 bag. A queue was already building at the front of the church ready to buy them and the bags of bread also loaded on the front table. After a while we moved to sit on the church steps, removing the eyes from potatoes before they went in the bags – here we got talking to Sue Ellen. Sue Ellen told us that whilst she had only worked with the project for two months, it already felt like home and she lived at Nancy’s house (along with many others) as much as possible so she could be close and help out. Her money to live came from working in a bakery, but her heart was at Fair Foods.
From Sue Ellen we learnt that 2/3rds of America’s food is wasted, and the food they rescued each day was just the tip of the ice burg. Nancy had founded the project after dumpster diving near the distribution centres – After being kicked out for the umpteenth time for it being ‘too dangerous’, they told her not to come back unless she brought a truck. So she did. Since then, the project has grown and Nancy has a deal struck whereby the food is waiting ready for them each morning, happily taken off the hands of the centres that would otherwise have had to pay to dump it.
Working with Fair Foods really was an eye-opening experience and a real taste of just how much we – America, the U.K., the world – throws away. And just what we can do with it instead.
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