‘Harvest to Hope’ Bill Would Send Farm Waste to Food Banks in Wisconsin

They call it “walk-by” food waste: produce left to rot in the fields because harvesting it costs more than it’s worth.

Farmers aren’t fans of letting fruit and vegetables go unpicked, but in an industry with extremely narrow profit margins, it’s sometimes the only option, as nonsensical as that seems. Over 20 billion pounds of produce gets wasted this way every year, another example of a very inefficient supply chain.

In Wisconsin, the legislature wants to make it a little easier to get that food from the field to the food bank. This “Harvest for Hope” legislation would take on the nationwide food waste problem to develop a pilot program.

Wisconsin would join two other states, Ohio and Minnesota, with a campaign designed to reduce food waste and fight hunger by connecting unwanted produce to people who need fresh food.

Many food banks are short on fresh produce. Perishable items are difficult to manage at food banks for an obvious reason: They can’t sit around on the shelf. Unlike staples, which can be stored and distributed over time, produce needs to move quickly. Some farmers already deliver surplus to food banks, but the Harvest for Hope bill would make this process more practical.

Industrial farmers typically have contracts for their crops, which are negotiated months — or sometimes years — in advance. Their goal is to maximize profit, and they may negotiate over both price and yield. But if their yield exceeds demand, they’re faced with unsold merchandise that’s hard to unload. And even if a farmer wants to give it to a food bank, it costs money to gather the excess produce.

This new bill would bridge that gap with a grant to assist with the costs of harvesting, packaging and transporting unsold crops to food banks. The legislation would initially provide $250,000 annually, spread across several food banks, with funding through 2022 – and the potential for expansion. In Wisconsin, a big farming state, Harvest to Hope could go a long way, and anti-poverty groups are excited.

Programs like this one tackle some interconnected issues: Hunger is a huge problem across the United States, with 41 million people in the United States facing food insecurity. Addressing poverty and other factors that make it hard to find enough to eat is critical, but in the meantime, we need to figure out ways to route food to people who need it. Central distribution, like that proposed in the Harvest for Hope bill, is designed to facilitate precisely that.

At the same time, it also requires addressing the pernicious issue of food waste. Farmers don’t overplant on purpose; they need to grow enough to meet their contractual obligations, and that can require some complex decisions.

Farming is unpredictable, and producers have to consider issues like crop loss, disease, infestations and other challenges that interfere with growing and harvesting food. At the same time, farmers face penalties for produce that isn’t aesthetically pleasing – wrong shape, size, color or general appearance — and they have an incentive to leave produce in the fields if it doesn’t look quite right.

Closing the loop on food waste gets high quality produce that’s totally edible — even if not always beautiful — out of the fields and onto shelves, where it has a fighting chance at getting eaten.

Photo credit: US Department of Agriculture


Sue H
Sue H2 months ago

This "waste" could be put to so many good uses. Why is this allowed to rot when people go hungry?

Daniel N
Past Member 6 months ago

Thank you

michela c
michela c6 months ago


Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga6 months ago


Clare O
Clare O7 months ago

if not picked at least it can be green compost.

Elisabeth T
Elisabeth T7 months ago

Good information, thanks for sharing

Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer7 months ago

Harvest for Hope sounds wonderful.

Glennis W
Glennis W7 months ago

Very interesting article Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis W
Glennis W7 months ago

Feed thw poor and homeless Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis W
Glennis W7 months ago

This is fantastic Thank you for caring and sharing