Just Peachy: Hunger and food waste solution in a jar

Food waste of this magnitude is inexplicable, incomprehensible: Every year, the farmers of a South Jersey cooperative throw out about a million peaches.

Not inedible peaches. Just blemished peaches.

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And in "throw out," I don't mean compost or feed to pigs. I mean "take to the landfill," which costs the farmers about $85,000 a year.

This morning, a solution is going to be unveiled: The farmers, Campbell's Soup and the Food Bank of South Jersey are announcing a cooperative effort that will help the farmers, help the hungry and provide a tasty product.

They are unveiling "Just Peachy," a peach salsa, that will sell for $2.99 and is being made from fresh, local Jersey peaches -- reknowned in the peach world, but also, apparently, unsellable if they are blemished.

Here's how it works: Instead of trucking the unsellable peaches to the landfill, the farmers, part of a cooperative called Eastern ProPak, will bring the fruit -- upwards of 25,000 peaches, at any rate -- to a small production facility at the company's world headquarters in Camden.

Campbell's is donating the equipment, the materials and the other ingredients for the salsa -- crushed tomatoes, jalapenos,onions, cilantro and garlic.  Campbell's employees are donating their time.

The salsa goes on sale today -- for $2.99 a jar -- at the Food Bank of South Jersey website, and will appear soon at area retailers. All proceeds go to the Food Bank. 

Campbell's spokeswoman said they anticipate producing about 52,000 jars of salsa, which would results in proceeds of close to $150,000. That's a nice infusion for public education and hunger relief.  Food bank spokeswoman Lydia Cipriani said that $21 feeds a family of four for almost a week. Meanwhile, 173,000 people in the Food Bank's service area -- Camden, Burlington, Gloucester and Salem counties -- are going hungry and need foos assistance, she said.

This a one-time project, but officials hope it becomes long-term and can be replicated to other fruits and vegetables.

"There are just so many opportunities to salvage fruit from farmers in this area," Cipriani said. Farmers themselves are excited, not just because they are relieved of the expense of landfilling the peaches, but also because "they work too hard and too long to see their product discarded."

The current collaboration was the result of several happy accidents. Food Bank officials were soliciting food from the farmer's cooperative, in Glassboro -- touring and talking and getting to know the farmers -- when they learned of the peach discards.

The bank does give fresh peaches to their clients, "but we started to think about ways we could make the peaches more shelf-stable," said Cipriani. It turns out her husband is a chef, and people go wild for a peach salsa he makes and sells at a local farmer's market.

It just so happens that Camden is also the home of a global manufacturer of foods and meals -- Campbell Soup Company. One thing led to another ...

So start looking for Just Peachy at area stores any day now. An easy way to partake -- and show your support for the effort -- would be to attend the Just Peachy Peach Party this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Collingswood Community Center. About eight or nine chefs will be creating different dishes -- whatever they like -- from Jersey peaches. At $10 and adult and $5 a child, you can eat all you want of tasting-size samplings.

They'll have Southern, American fusion, Cuban, Mexican and Indian versions of various things, from appetizers to entrees.

Food waste is an environmental issue, the same way that any waste of resources is an environmental issue. In addition, food waste in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, if you're a gardener with excess produce, here's a column I wrote earlier this year about ways to get it to the hungry.

And an earlier blog post about the environmental implications of food waste, with a John Steinbeck quote to make you weep.