Oakland farmers share their bounty

We all end up with leftovers, even farmers. So in an attempt to put agricultural waste to good use, Oakland backyard growers have begun donating leftover produce to people in need.

Montclair resident Andrew Sigal came up with the idea to give away the leftover food from his 800 square-foot backyard garden. Sigal, a culinary historian and food activist for the past 10 years, told Oakland North:

“My garden produces way more than I can possibly use. I used to take the extra chard, corn, kale and onions I grew and put it out on a table for my neighbors, and suddenly I realized, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of people in Oakland who need this food more than my neighbors do.’”

Just as quickly as the idea was born, Sigal signed on other resident farmers to donate their leftover food. He set up a weekly carpool to take the produce to a local food pantry, marking the beginning of FoodPool.

Oakland currently has two FoodPool chapters, one in Montclair and another in North Oakland. Each chapter has about 50 to 60 farmers.

Depending on the season, a weekly FoodPool can bring in from 10 to 40 pounds of produce. The group drops off fresh vegetables and fruits at locations including food banks, soup kitchens, after school lunch programs and hospice facilities.

One of the main recipients of the Montclair chapter’s produce is the Telegraph Ministry Center, whose food pantry serves Oakland residents twice a week.

The center’s director, Chris Watson, told Oakland North they are especially grateful for FoodPool because fresh, healthy food is often difficult to come by at the pantry:

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive, especially because we have some clients that struggle because they have specific dietary needs and can’t have canned food, or their preference is for a vegetarian diet. We try to accommodate them as much as we can.”

Alameda has a similar group called the Alameda Backyard Growers, where members grow food in their own backyards and donate leftovers to organizations that serve low-income residents.

Sigal hopes FoodPool can spark a national movement to reduce agricultural waste and fill food pantries with fresh produce. The FoodPool website explains exactly how other communities can join the movement.