Lessening the landfills: food bank rescues unwanted produce

Borderlands Food Bank partners with ASU Changemaker Central to redistribute produce at farmers markets

For just $10, students can bring home 60 pounds of fresh produce from a market hosted by Borderlands Food Bank and ASU Changemaker Central.

Produce on Wheels With-Out Waste, more commonly known as P.O.W.W.OW., is a Borderlands program that regularly brings pallets of rescued produce to ASU's Tempe, West and Polytechnic campuses. The program provides students with an opportunity to buy nutritious food. 

Visiting different campuses each month, the program will hold its next produce distribution on the West Campus on March 18.

Borderlands Director of Programs, Paul Kwan, said the organization rescues unwanted produce that has been rejected by grocery stores and then sells it through the P.O.W.W.O.W. program.

“When it’s rejected, it’s normally because of color, size, shape, the market pricing of the variety might be too high at that moment or it can be blemishes,” he said.

Kwan said that without an organization like Borderlands rescuing the produce, it would go to waste.

“If the produce distributors cannot sell it, it goes into the landfill, about 30 to 40 million pounds a year,” he said. “If we don’t rescue this produce, it will create more of a methane issue in the landfill itself.”

Kwan said P.O.W.W.O.W.'s goal is to provide everyone with access to nutritious food.

“We do know that there are many students who don’t eat that nutritious because it’s a fast pace environment, students don’t have time or the actual ability to cook,” he said. “We think that everyone deserves to have fresh produce.”

Yolanda Soto, the Borderlands president and CEO, said these markets benefit both a student’s budget and their health.

“With the prices of universities going up, not only tuition but books, and with the economy the way it is, parents cannot do everything,” she said. “We have found that there’s a lot of student need, and it helps to prevent so many diseases.”

Soto said that with 70 sites and 40,000 registered supporters, Borderlands partners with community organizations to spread awareness about healthy eating and the importance of saving nutritious food.

“We don’t want to rescue the cookies and the chips,” she said. “We feel that it is a win-win situation because children are learning to eat this nutritious product, and when they grow up and are able to purchase it at the grocery store, they will.”

Soto said in order for the organization to continue to offer produce at a low price, it must rely on the support of the community.

“We’re trying to get it to as many families as possible at as low of a cost as possible,” she said. “We want the community to help us rescue and recycle this very good product, and we’re not asking the government for any help.”

Soto said that when supporters buy produce from the distribution, they are receiving product that at times is fresher than what goes into grocery stores.

“It’s the closest you get to farm to table because we don’t sort it,” she said. “Food safety has always been our primary concern.”

She said customers receive a little bit of every type of produce at the market.

“We do tell them how much of each they can have and what makes up the 60 pounds, but the supporter picks his own product,” she said.

She said the produce can be shared or used in different ways.

“I realize that many students may be living in a dorm and can’t use the 60 pounds, but if a student lives alone, they can share it with five other students and all pitch in,” she said. “We also have people who pick up for composting or people who pick up for their chickens or pigs.”

Marvin Villa, a senior psychology major, is a change agent for Changemaker Central at ASU and has participated as a volunteer for P.O.W.W.O.W. distributions on the West Campus.

Villa said Changemaker Central has been working to recruit volunteers who will help with the set up and distribution of Borderlands produce on campus.

“Since Changemaker took the initiative, what we’re trying to do now is hand it over to clubs who may be revolving around environmental or sustainable practices,” he said. “This Saturday, E.A.R.T.H. (Environmental Advocacy, Restoration and Technology for Humanity) club is going to be the one hosting the produce rescue.”

Villa said the farmers markets helps fight hunger and are very convenient for many students.

“The idea is to limit food waste in the sense of taking what was harvested from the Mexican lands to places who have food insecurity,” he said.

“Grocery stores may not be as close or as convenient to students, especially with transportation, but with Borderlands at the West campus, it’s not even a minute away, and you can see it from your dorm.”


Reach the reporter at kasando1@asu.edu or follow @karismasandoval onTwitter.

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