When the Parker brothers, Sam and Ryan, began their own farming operation in 2006, Gulftstream Produce, they took extra vegetables to local churches.
As a wholesale operation, vegetables with small marks wouldn’t sell at grocery stores. And as a wholesale operation, those ‘unmarketable’ vegetables sometimes came in truckloads, not boxes like most churches and small food pantries needed or could handle.
For some time, the only option for these vegetables was to feed it to livestock or turn it into compost.
The Parkers began asking the churches where they got other food that stocked their pantries.
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Since 2008, the Parkers have donated about 300,000 pounds of produce to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
According to its website, vegetables are one of the most-needed items at the Food Bank, although the organization has been steadily increasing how much it collects and distributes.
The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina’s total food supply is usually about 50 percent perishable, including meats, diary and produce.
Last year, its website said, the Food Bank distributed almost 18 million pounds of fresh produce across the state, which was 50 percent more than the amount it had distributed the year before.
Gulfstream Produce has a another farming operation in Georgia, and that farm was very good at finding uses for its unmarketable produce, Ryan Parker said.
“(Georgia) started talking about it and ... that’s what got us on the phone with the food bank,” he said. “We liked what (they were) doing and we thought it was a great idea.”
The Parkers’ farm produces mostly sweet potatoes, bell peppers, summer and winter squash and cabbage. In Wendell, the Parkers estimate they have about 300 acres of land they use for farming.
“We’re small for a (vegetable operation),” Ryan Parker said.
Even though it’s small, food bank volunteers were visiting about once a week in the fall during the cabbage harvest season. Right now, the Parkers are preparing to plant bell peppers so donations to the Food Bank aren’t as regular as during peak harvest times, but they’ve thought about other ways to help the Food Bank.
Sam Parker said the move to eat local has allowed small farms, like theirs to thrive. With more demand to eat local, the brothers have to plan to make more product.
And with more product in general, the amount of unmarketable product that has to be donated will likely increase as well.
“(One way to help) besides donating to the Food Bank, (is to) just eat your veggies,” Sam Parker said.
“If everybody eats their veggies, it would help all the way around.”