One Woman’s Crusade to Channel Cast-off Produce to the Hungry

In “Borderlands Food Bank,”  Lisa Morehouse reports on one woman’s campaign to stop food waste at the U.S.-Mexican border by channeling millions of pounds rejected but edible, fresh produce to the nation’s food banks. The story is online today with our radio partner at NPR, Latino USA and NPR’s The Salt blog.

Every year, $4 billion worth of produce—more than half the fruits and vegetables grown in Mexico—comes north through Nogales, Arizona. But buyers and USDA inspectors often reject shipments for aesthetic reasons, claiming that the produce is too big, too small, the wrong color, blemished, or a strange shape for the American shopper. Across the country, an estimated 40 percent of food is wasted from the field to the home, despite the fact that 15 percent of Americans battle hunger.

When Yolanda Soto came on as executive director of Borderlands Food Bank 20 years ago, “she was aghast at the amount of rejected produce saturating the landfill,” reports Morehouse.

Soto quickly made it her mission to ensure that all of that perfectly safe, edible produce got to the people who need it most.

According to Morehouse, Borderlands annually “rescues between 35 million and 40 million pounds of … fruits and vegetables headed for the landfill. That’s about one serving of produce for every child in the U.S.”

Now, when distributors in Nogales are about to pitch produce in the trash, they contact Soto, who emails her nationwide list of 200 hunger-relief organizations. The agencies handle their own transportation in exchange for bargain-priced fruits and vegetables. The maximum any group pays is $800 for a trailer load of produce that would normally cost $70,000.

Borderlands also distributes to individuals and agencies in Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico. Thousands of people partake at weekly produce pick-ups, paying just $10 for as much as 60 pounds of produce.

Latino USA is a weekly radio show on NPR and the longest running Latino-focused program on radio. You can hear the full story online at Latino USA or here on our website or on the Latino USA Podcast. You can also read an accompanying blog at NPR’s The Salt.