According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, almost 15 percent of Michigan households struggle with getting food on the table. Forgotten Harvest has been tackling this issue, along with food waste issues, since 1990.
ood insecurity and food waste are two huge issues in the United States that have the ability to offset one another. According to the USDA, one in seven Michiganders struggles with hunger, and yet the Environmental Protection Agency reports that nearly 35 million tons of food is wasted annually in the U.S.
Forgotten Harvest rescues food that would otherwise become waste. These healthy food donations-from farmers, food retailers and food manufacturers-are distributed to those in need through outreach organizations in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.
As CEO of Forgotten Harvest, Kirk Mayes says he helps set the strategy and vision for the organization-while also working as head of operations.
"We specialize in identifying places within our food system where food is not going to be able to hit the market because it doesn't hit particular retail specifications," Mayes says. "We'll work with them to identify food and to collect that food, and then we get it out to the community free of charge to help people who need fresh, healthy food."
Forgotten Harvest collects food from 800 different locations from 400 different partners in Michigan and Ontario. Their donors include farms and gardens, in addition to retailers like Kroger, Walmart, Meijer and Busch's Fresh Food Market.
"We get tons and tons of food in support," Mayes says.
Forgotten Harvest also operates its own farm, located in Fenton, Michigan, that was donated by the Moroun family in 2011 and began operations in 2013. Mayes says last year, they were able to harvest and distribute about a million pounds of food from their own farm.
"Fundraising is always a challenge, especially now when its so important to support Detroit's comeback. There's a lot of need," Mayes says. "One of the biggest challenges is to figure out how we can best position ourselves to make the most impact of increasing food security while operating in a sustainable fashion."
Many people believe the misconception that food donors assume risks when donating surplus foods to organizations like Forgotten Harvest. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects all good-faith food donors from liabilities. Last year, Forgotten Harvest distributed almost 42 million pounds of food to about 283 different metro Detroit organizations that get the food out to the people who need it.
Mayes says Forgotten Harvest has grown rapidly over the past decade, noting the organization took in around 12 million pounds of food five or six years ago. The figure quickly rose to 25 million pounds a few years later, eventually hitting over 40 million pounds of food.
"Right now we're going to be working in that 40 and 50 million pounds range, while we try to work on finding more efficiencies in our current assets, looking at our distribution system and really trying to improve access to the food that we are distributing for the people we serve," Mayes says.
"Forgotten Harvest is a special place. It is a true community product," Mayes adds.
"Forgotten Harvest has grown into something that the community really depends on. It's a resource that if we even talk about reducing what we do, much less stop what we do, it will have severe impact in the safety net for our community."
Mayes recalls an instance when he was collecting donations at a church for Sow a Seed, a program where churches donate a small portion of Sunday offerings to the organization. While visiting one of the churches, he met a woman who had gotten help from Forgotten Harvest in the past.
"She wanted to give what she had, and she gave me a dollar out of her pocket. I tried my best to graciously and humbly accept it without crying in front of this woman," Mayes says. "That was one of the days that I remembered that I was doing God's work."
Anyone who donates money or time becomes part of the Forgotten Harvest Rescue Team. If you prefer to get your hands dirty, you can volunteer as part of their warehouse crew, farm team or by hosting a fundraiser. You can volunteer individually or sign up with a group. For more information about volunteer opportunities or to make a donation, visit ForgottenHarvest.org.