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The Green Bean Project

Second Harvest Food Bank plans to rescue and distribute 700,000 pounds of green beans this year.

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The Green Bean Project by the Numbers

  • 2 Pound bags of green beans that are distributed to families in need
  • 3 Inches in length a green bean must be to meet retail standards
  • 9 Number of food banks reaping benefits of The Green Bean Project last season
  • 24 Totes of green beans in a full truckload
  • 100 Average number of days in a green bean harvest season
  • $50,000 Upfront and operational costs to begin The Green Bean Project
  • 64,510 Pounds of rescued green beans distributed in Middle Tennessee last year
  • 220,130 Pounds of rescued green beans distributed in the State of Tennessee last year
  • 700,000 Pounds of green beans Second Harvest plans to rescue and distribute this year

Farm to Families: Green Bean Project - Watch the Video Now

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Q&A with Nancy Keil-Culbertson, SVP of External Affairs at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee

1. Describe the service delivery or cost-streamlining program, when it started, and how it is innovative.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee launched the Green Bean Project in June 2015 in partnership with Hughes Farms & Produce located in Crossville, Tenn.

Hughes Farm discards 3 million pounds of green beans each year. The beans are perfectly safe for human consumption, but they are snapped or too short for retail standards. Second Harvest saw an opportunity to recover the discarded beans and provide them to families in need. The farmer’s system was augmented to add a third processing line to sort donated beans from sellable beans and waste as well as cool and sanitize the ready-to-eat product.

Produce is expensive for food banks to acquire, but vital to the people they serve. The Green Bean Project is the first of its kind and has the potential to provide 1 million pounds of green beans to be shared with Second Harvest and the Feeding America food bank network. This innovative project provides a solution to economically source valuable produce for families in need while reducing food waste.

2. How does the innovation permit you to further the mission of your organization and impact the lives of people you serve? Give specific examples as applicable.

Second Harvest is committed to ending hunger, but we also want to improve the health and well being of the communities we serve. With much of the food insecure population relying on the Food Bank and our Partner Agencies for a significant portion of their food, it is imperative that we provide nutrient-dense meals.

The 2014 Hunger in America study reveals Middle Tennesseans in need view fresh fruits and vegetables as the most desired products they wish to receive.

For the one in six Tennesseans who may not know where their next meal is coming from, finding adequate food at all is a challenge, but accessing affordable, nutritious food is even more difficult. Second Harvest has made a substantial increase in the annual amount of produce provided to the food insecure – fresh produce is now 27 percent of the food distributed, up from less than 1 percent in 2011.

In 2015, 1 million pounds of fresh food was sourced from farms within 800 miles of Nashville. Of that, 64,510 pounds of green beans from The Green Bean Project were distributed locally to Middle Tennesseans.

3. Was this idea originated by your organization, by another, or by an organization or association with which you are affiliated? How can this program be replicated or adapted by other organizations?

Second Harvest initiated a partnership with Hughes Farms to pioneer The Green Bean Project, then applied for and grant funding to cover the cost to augment the farmer’s system.

Second Harvest is applying the methodology of The Green Bean Project to other surplus crops. We are currently working on an initiative to create tomato and spaghetti sauces using recovered overripe tomatoes.

The Green Bean Project lays the groundwork for food banks nationwide to capture agricultural surpluses of various crops in large volumes – diverting food from waste and providing for those in need.

4. How do you measure the performance of the new service delivery or cost-streaming program? What have been the specific, measurable and/or observable results achieved over time? What are the project results for the next three years? 

During the 2015 harvest from July 28 to October 21, 321,523 pounds of green beans were distributed to nine Feeding America network member food banks. 220,130 pounds were distributed to the five food banks in Tennessee and 64,510 pounds were distributed through Second Harvest right here in Middle Tennessee.

The goal is to rescue more than 700,000 pounds during the 2016 harvest, and knowing more than 30,000 pounds of green beans are being discarded daily during the 100-day harvest, there is a potential to rescue millions pounds of green beans annually.

The objective is to distribute as many fresh green beans as possible through Second Harvest and other food banks. However, the supply of fresh beans may exceed what can be distributed. Second Harvest has the ability to preserve the beans for long-term storage after an investment was made for an $8,500 vacuum-sealing machine to seal the blanched green beans in freezer-ready packaging for use at a later date. Second Harvest is pursuing additional capacity to handle more available crops.

5. What were the greatest management challenges you encountered and met successfully in carrying out the program or project?

Prior to augmenting the farmer’s system, Second Harvest attempted to deliver smaller quantities of the discarded beans to a local Partner Agency. Volunteers assembled in parking lots with small wading pools to chill beans, which were then sorted into bags. Second Harvest recognized this method did not provide an optimal long-term strategy to recuse the millions of pounds of beans available.

The main challenge in safely rescuing these beans was to properly cool and sanitize the beans that were snapped or too short for retail standards. Chris Hughes, owner of Hughes Farms and Produce, agreed that the best option was to have his system augmented. The new processing line was engineered specifically to allow for it to be turned on or off, so the farm was able to coordinate with Second Harvest to only process excess beans at a capacity that could be used by the food bank.

Second Harvest invested four years into developing a true partnership with Chris Hughes to turn this innovative idea into reality. Together, we overcame logistical and financial challenges to create a sustainable program that will impact the lives of children, families and seniors struggling with hunger.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

How can 48 million people face hunger in a country that wastes billions of pounds of food? Your big idea can lead to the interventions that not only dramatically reduce food waste, but also provide more meals for your neighbors in need.

Tell us about your work experience:

This was submitted on behalf of Second Harvest Food Bank, experts in product sourcing and distribution, food safety, community health, nutrition & more:

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