Organizers of a new program that started this week at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Catonsville campus offering reduced-cost produce to students, faculty and staff anticipated selling about 25 bags at its kickoff on Wednesday.
Instead, 50 bags at $7 each containing among other items, organic blackberries, Honey Crisp apples, a pound of organic Brussels sprouts and plums, sold in about two hours.
“We basically were sold out by 1:30 [p.m],” said Heather Griner, director of college and community outreach services at CCBC.
The new program, called “Produce in a SNAP,” is a partnership between CCBC and Hungry Harvest, an organization that seeks to reduce food waste.
Hungry Harvest will set up each Thursday in front of the CCBC Catonsville Student Services Building from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. until November, at which point the program will take a hiatus until February when most students resume taking classes.
A growing group of activists, government agencies, nonprofits and private companies have joined the food recovery movement. Their shared mission is to cut down on food waste, and divert what previously was thrown away to feed those who might otherwise eat less nutritiously — or go hungry.
Customers can use EBT, in addition to cash or credit to buy the bags of produce. The organization does not ask for identification or proof of income to mitigate the feelings of shame and embarrassment that can come with being food insecure, organizers said.
“I don’t think we truly know how big of a deal it is,” Griner said. “Students are very reluctant to come forward when they need assistance.”
To that end, CCBC opened a food pantry on its Catonsville campus in 2015 as part of its efforts to combat food insecurities on campus, Griner said.
During the 2017-2018 academic year, 794 different students used the Catonsville food pantry in a total 2,268 visits, she said.
About one-third of the food produced in the United States that is fit for human consumption goes to waste each year, according to federal government estimates. And in Maryland, one in nine individuals is estimated to be food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to quality and affordable food.
Food that’s produced in the U.S. that doesn’t make it to market is often sent to landfills, where it decomposes and produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Only 5.3 percent of food waste is diverted from landfills in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Will McCabe, food access manager for Baltimore-based Hungry Harvest, said the produce bags are at least 50 percent cheaper than what the items would cost at a grocery store. Hungry Harvest purchases food from suppliers that would not otherwise make it to market.
Sometimes that’s because the produce is “ugly,” but usually it’s because of a surplus in production, McCabe said.
“I curated the bags this week to be especially fruitful, no pun intended. It was a lot of high-value product, I say this bag probably would have been 20-plus dollars if you compared it to grocery stores,” McCabe said.
Initially, CCBC told Hungry Harvest to prepare for about 25 individuals to purchase produce bags. But the produce, sold during an activities fair for students returning to campus on Wednesday was more in demand than initially anticipated.
“There are a lot of people who are on the fringe. We want to make sure that we’re serving people who are barely missing qualifying for benefits,” McCabe said.
Griner said that any produce leftover will be donated to a local shelter. Leftover produce from the first market was donated to the CCBC food pantry.
Griner said she hopes to expand the market to the other CCBC campuses, though she did not have a projected timeline for when that might happen.