Advancing Food Banks

Across Storm-Damaged Countryside and Up Steep Urban Hills, a Food Bank Goes the Extra Mile

Written by Alice Driver

To reach Pilones y Flores de Honduras, a family farm outside of Tegucigalpa, Adrián Yaddy Torres Zavala must navigate dirt roads overrun by rivers. But it’s a drive he and a group of volunteers from Banco de Alimentos Honduras enthusiastically do whenever they get the call.

“Our employees call Adrián and tell him that next week we will have X quantity of lettuce or cucumbers for them to collect,” said Ricardo Bulnes, the owner of the farm. Because of strict aesthetic standards at supermarkets, Bulnes isn’t able to sell everything the farm produces so he ends up with a surplus of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables.

But just over a year ago, Torres Zavala, the program coordinator for agricultural recovery at the Banco de Alimentos de Honduras, showed up at the farm and told Bulnes he had a solution for that extra produce that helped people and the planet. Instead of letting it rot in field or a landfill and emit greenhouse gases, Banco de Alimentos Honduras would come harvest and collect the produce and then deliver it to Hondurans facing food insecurity.

As he walks through the expansive greenhouses on the property, Bulnes laments watching good food go to waste. Fresh produce is such a blessing, something he sees every time his grandchildren visit the farm and eat lettuce leaves straight from the greenhouse.

Bulnes says he knows how important it is to keep produce from ending up in landfills, where it produces methane and contributes to climate change. Globally, wasted food is responsible for 8 to 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Bulnes points across the farm, showing a right arm marked by a deep, ragged scar left by a rattlesnake bite. Since this family farm opened in 2006, he has witnessed the impact of climate change on the Honduran countryside.

“Like everyone, we have been impacted by climate change,” he said, explaining how a river had overtaken the road where trucks used to arrive to load his produce to be sent to markets. “In this area, we have been affected by rain and the quantity of water that falls quickly. The effects of climate change are more dramatic every year.”

Walking toward the river, Bulnes arrives at a cable ferry, which he had made in a pinch when he needed to get vegetables across the river after a hard rain.

He is thankful that Torres Zavala and Banco de Alimentos Honduras make the difficult drive to the farm to recover the fresh produce. Thanks in large part to a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation to The Global FoodBanking Network, it’s just one of many farms in Honduras no longer wasting surplus produce. Banco de Alimentos de Honduras has been able to connect with many farmers and increase its capacity to recover fresh produce. Last year, Banco de Alimentos Honduras recovered over 700 tons of food from farms like the one Bulnes runs, as well as corporations like Walmart. That same year, the food bank served 36,512 people.

“To send fresh vegetables that would otherwise go to waste to families in need is a beautiful thing,” said Bulnes.

Nourishment Where It’s Needed

Reaching Berlín – an impoverished neighborhood in the hills above the Honduran capital – is an entirely different transportation challenge for Torres Zavala. The only ways in are steep, narrow, dirt-packed streets. He’s hoping they can get their truck filled with vegetables from Bulnes’ farm up the hills before the afternoon rain, which would make driving treacherous.

Today, they make it safely. As volunteers unload the truck, Torres Zavala stands with María Cristian Bacedano, 55, the community leader in Berlín who helped coordinate the food delivery, and marvels at the seemingly never-ending slope up which the neighborhood stretches. He says produce like this doesn’t often reach these marginalized communities, where families not only struggle against poverty but also entrenched gang violence.

People here “don’t consume fresh fruits and vegetables as much, so we want to support them so they get used to such staples,” he says, especially now as they are able to source more through agricultural recovery work.

Bacedano helped organize food basket donations for 179 families in the community, and alongside Banco de Alimentos Honduras, was also coordinating cooking workshops and recipes so families could maximize the nutrition they get from their fresh produce.

Rosa Evangelista Mendoza Galindo, 53, stood among the crowd of women and children, waiting to receive bananas, potatoes, onions, and lettuce. A single mother of five, she was thankful to be able to prepare meals from wholesome ingredients.

“These are people with few economic resources who can’t get what they need from supermarkets,” Bacedano said. “These are the people we search for, people who don’t have stable jobs and who will benefit from this food.”

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