Combating Food Waste with Society of St. Andrew’s Mike Waldmann

December 9, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and today we’re so honored to have with us Mike Waldmann. He’s the Executive Director of Society of St. Andrew. Welcome to Green is Good, Mike Waldmann. MIKE WALDMANN: Thank you, John. It’s good to be here and good to talk to your listeners. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, Mike, before we get going here, I want to give shout-out for your website here. The website is EndHunger.org. I’m on the website right now. There’s a lot of important things on the website but if you want to follow along as Mike shares the story of Society of St. Andrew, I would go to EndHunger.org. Mike, can you tell us right from the top what is the Society of St. Andrew? MIKE WALDMANN: Well, the Society of St. Andrew is a faith-based organization. We don’t do active proselytizing, if you will. We just care about feeding people but it’s a faith-based organization. We’ve been around 34 years now and what we do is a simple ministry of saving fresh produce. It’s all fresh produce, saving it from going to waste and distributing it to feeding programs that feed the hungry in the U.S. It’s a U.S. program and we provide food to all 48 contiguous states. JOHN SHEGERIAN: There’s a word that I’ve read on your website and in the materials that I was reading preparing for this show that says that you feed hungry people by gleaning the field. Can you explain to our listeners what gleaning means? MIKE WALDMANN: Sure. It’s actually an old biblical term so some of your church listeners may be familiar with it but it comes from the Jewish tradition, actually, in the bible. It’s part of their Torah where God commanded the people to let the poor and the sojourner come to their fields and glean the edges so you were not supposed to harvest your full field but you were supposed to leave kind of the edges and the corner for people to come and pick the good food left behind but gleaning, simply in the food context of it, is picking perfectly good food, nothing wrong with it, all your listeners would be happy to eat it, but it’s just not good enough for market use for one reason or another. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I gotcha, and where does the gleaning take place? MIKE WALDMANN: Well, the gleaning actually takes place in two locations. There’s two main areas where large volumes of food is going to waste in America. One is right in the fields at the harvest. Food, whether it’s harvested mechanically or by farm laborers, food is left behind that isn’t ready for market or doesn’t meet certain specifications. We use volunteers right after harvest to come and pick up the good stuff left over and help us distribute it so we work with thousands of farmers across the country. The second place where a lot of food goes to waste is in what we call packing facilities or distribution centers. Food that is harvested to go to market goes to a facility where it’s put in the bags and boxes to go to grocery stores, that kind of thing. At that location, another grade-out process occurs where produce, whether it’s potatoes or apples or broccoli or whatever, that doesn’t meet the high standards that are demanded by American consumers, in other words, they’re not good enough for grocery stores, that is rejected. In other words, they’re just out in these semi tractor-trailers and sent to landfills and dumped as waste. We intercept that food and there’s nothing wrong with it. It just doesn’t meet the perfect conditions that grocery stores demand and we ship whole tractor-trailer loads of this produce all across the country. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Like we said when we started this show at the top of the show, your website is EndHunger.org. I’m on the website now and you’ve pointed out to me when we were chatting before we went on the air today two very important numbers on the landing page of this website. There’s one number here that says pounds of food waste in the U.S. since this page loaded. The number is just changing. The faster number even changing is pounds wasted in the U.S. this year. These are just unbelievable compelling numbers on how much food gets wasted in this country. MIKE WALDMANN: It is amazing and those numbers are based on the USDA’s estimate that 96 billion pounds of food is going to waste in America every single year. A lot of that is fresh produce, perfectly good and healthy food, and we have about 45 million Americans who don’t get enough food so if you do that math, we are throwing away about one and a half tons of food for every hungry man, woman, and child in this country. We have defeated hunger in this country when we can throw away so much food. We’ve ended hunger. We just allow it to exist, so we’re trying to use this common sense way of taking perfectly good but unmarketable food that’s going to go to waste and use it to feed the hungry in America. JOHN SHEGERIAN: On the site, it shows this very fascinating number. It says food rescued and delivered January through June 2013 gleaned 10.4 million pounds. Am I right to assume, Mike, that this is how much your organization has gleaned this year? MIKE WALDMANN: Yes, that’s correct. That’s just our organization and I think that’s at the end of June. We haven’t updated it with the end of July numbers. It’s actually about 18 million pounds. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, for our listeners out there, it’s food delivered, 43 million servings. You’re one organization, The Society of St. Andrew, 43 million servings. Wow. What a blessing and since the organization started in 1983, can you just quickly who started it and how did it get started in ’83? MIKE WALDMANN: Sure. It was kind of an intentional accident, if you will. That’s kind of a weird way to look at it but we had two families come together. Both were Methodist ministers and they wanted to do something about hunger. They didn’t know what that was but their initial idea was to go around putting on seminars about how wasteful our lifestyles are, wasteful in terms of food and the stuff we collect and all those kind of things so the initial push was to get people to change their lifestyles and make them more efficient and use less stuff and to waste less so this is something your listeners I’m sure would agree with so they were at one of these seminars putting one of these seminars on and in the middle of it, an old codger at the back of the room stood up and said, ‘I don’t agree with you. I don’t think we waste that much,’ and they said, ‘Well, what do you do?’ and he said, ‘Well, I grow potatoes,’ and they said, ‘Do you sell all the potatoes you grow?’ and he said, ‘Well, no,’ and they said, ‘Well, what do you do with those?’ and he said, ‘The ones that I can’t sell or I can’t bring to market, I just send off into a field and I dump them,’ and they said, ‘That’s what we’re talking about,’ and then the old codger sat back down and Ken and Ray, that’s Ken Horn and Ray Buchanan were the two Founders of the organization, they went on their normal spiel and were yelling about people about their wasteful lifestyles and then a little bit later, the old codger stood back up and said, ‘I see what you’re talking about. I’ve got 100,000 pounds of potatoes I can give you now. Can you do something with them?’ and they didn’t know what to do. They had never even thought of moving food but they said sure. They couldn’t say no to the guy after just harassing him for about a half hour about his wasteful lifestyle so they came back, figured out how to distribute about 100,000 pounds of potatoes, called the farmer up all full of themselves, and said, ‘We’re ready for your potatoes,’ and the farmer said, ‘Great, I have six friends and each one of them has 100,000 pounds of potatoes. Can you do something with those?’ and that’s how this idea of saving fresh food from going to waste and using it to feed the hungry got started again thousands of years after it showed up in the bible. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, so you’ve gone from ’83. It’s evolved amazingly. Forty-three million servings were served in the first half of this year by your great organization. What a blessing. Now I assume and I know from your website and everything I’ve read about you that you evolved so beyond potatoes, what other kinds of foods do you now glean? MIKE WALDMANN: We now pretty much glean everything you see in the grocery store aisle and some things you probably don’t see there. We basically glean any kind of produce you can imagine, anything that’s grown in the U.S. We don’t do soybeans and foods that are going to be processed because our target is sending it to people that are going to use it right then. Often, when we glean, hungry people are going to eat that food that very same day and I love telling people that each year, we save and distribute about 30 to 40 million pounds of food. We don’t own a single truck or a warehouse. We don’t warehouse food. There’s trucking resources available. We don’t need more trucks. We don’t need more feeding programs and we don’t need the warehouse because we can take the food directly from where it’s excessed, if you will, where it’s not going to be used and ship it to places that are going to use it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Besides the gleaning program, you also have something called Potato and Produce Program and Harvests of Hope. What are those programs? MIKE WALDMANN: Sure. The Potato and Produce Project, you might recall we were talking earlier about the two main places where food goes to waste, farmers’ fields and distribution centers, so the gleaning network uses those, We had over 40,000 volunteers last year. They go in the fields and simply pick the good stuff left over. the Potato and Produce gets involved with the truckloads that we get from these distribution centers and packing and then finally the Harvests of Hope Program is kind of a small program. It’s a work-study mission retreat event. We do this for pretty much all ages but we kind of focus on high school and young college age youth and we do gleaning every day, for example, but we also give them the more educational areas about poverty and hunger both locally and nationally but also globally so the idea around Harvest of Hope is to simply increase people’s awareness about hunger related issues because it can be a little complicated. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’ve got about two minutes left and, Mike, I want people to get involved with your great organization that are inspired by everything you’re saying. Where does the funding and the volunteers come from for supporting the Society of St. Andrew? MIKE WALDMANN: Those are good questions, John. Our funding comes from three sources: They come from churches and synagogues and faith communities, if you will. It also comes from individuals who send in tax-deductible donations. We get individuals from all 50 states that support us, as well as churches in all 50 states, and then a third source of funding is grants from corporations and foundations and roughly, about a third of our income comes from each source so we don’t use any government funding. It’s all from these other sources. The volunteers, and we have about 40,000 every year, they come from all kind of groups, a lot of church groups, if you will, and synagogues and other faith community organizations. we get scout troops, civic groups of all kinds, homeschoolers and public school groups, private school groups, other campus groups from universities. Pretty much any kind of organization that is out there is able to do it and we’re happy to work with them. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there, final thoughts. If you want to be involved with your great organization, The Society of St. Andrew, and they go to your website, EndHunger.org, and they get inspired, how can they get involved? How do you want them to get involved today? MIKE WALDMANN: We always ask people to do three things for us; First, if they are people of faith, we ask them to pray for the ministry and pray for the people we serve, the hungry in America. Secondly’ we want people to volunteer. You can get involved with your hands and help in the gleaning network or in a packing operation that we do sometimes. Third, of course, the ministry does depend on financial support from individuals, especially in churches and other organization, and so we invited people to help us financially and it’s easy to determine how much good you’re doing because we feed people about two cents a serving so every $1 ends up in about 50 servings of food. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s a great way to think about it. That is wonderful. That’s great. Well Mike, I thank you for coming on today. For our listeners out there again, to see more of the great work that The Society of St. Andrews is doing, please go to EndHunger.org. As Mike said, pray, volunteer and donate. Mike Waldmann, you are an extraordinary sustainability leader and truly living proof that green is good. MIKE WALDMANN: Thank you, John.