The world’s largest inland port of entry is in Nogales, both Mexico and Arizona, just south of where I live in Tucson. Billions of pounds of food and thousands of semi-trailer trucks cross the border, bringing in 25-30% of the produce we in the U.S. eat year round. But if prices on produce drop, there’s no profit in hauling it any farther. Instead, thousands and thousands of pounds of fresh, edible produce is dumped in landfills.
That statistic you hear, that 30% of food is wasted, this is what it means. And it’s happening in lots of places. In May, fruit transporters in Washington state began dumping millions of pounds of apples on sagebrush-covered hillsides and leaving them to rot. It’s the result of the biggest crop of apples on record in combination with labor disputes at the ports that left the apples sitting for weeks until they were unusable.
It would be easy to say that our food distribution system is a mess. But that implies that I actually know something about the logistics involved and what people are already doing to manage something so complex. Part of the solution is finding ways to rescue food that would have been dumped and putting it in the kitchens of people who need it.
Borderlands Food Bank is one example of this. Located in Nogales, Arizona, Borderlands rescues 35 to 40 million pounds of produce each year. It works with 200 donors (companies that give produce they would have had to dump), and distributes food to 389 agencies in Arizona, and then to 18 other states in the U.S. About 20% of the produce is unusable so it is sent to local farmers to feed livestock, or trucked to the San Xavier Reservation for the University of Arizona’s compost program, or trucked to local landfills. To give you an idea of the scale of the food waste issue, Borderlands is a $61 million operation, with only 4 paid employees, and a donated 13,000 square foot warehouse. The dollar value of the operation represents the value of the food donated along with some grants to cover Borderlands’ nominal costs. .
Solving food waste and improving our distribution chains will take the coordinated efforts of many organizations like Borderlands. If you know of other folks doing this work, do let us all know by sharing in the comments below.