Local nonprofit cuts back on hunger, food waste as busy summer approaches | Local

In a state centered around agriculture, waste is inevitable.

It can come in the form of an oddly shaped apple that doesn’t fit a store’s standards, or a tomato too small to sell; even a field of potatoes with no market.

Waste not only affects farmers and vendors, but also the environment and those in need, according to Mike Shambaugh-Miller, executive director and founder of Produce From the Heart, a Nebraska-based nonprofit that collects unwanted-but-still-edible produce and redistributes it.

The nonprofit is approaching its busiest time of the year as cold-weather crops such as lettuce and cabbage are harvested before the growing and harvesting of more warm-weather crops.

It’s all a part of the group’s mission to tackle both the effects of waste on the environment and hunger among impoverished children and the elderly in a state where 40 percent of produce never reaches a person’s plate, according to Shambaugh-Miller.

This mission is a personal one for the nonprofit’s founder, who grew up in a family often dependent on food-assistance programs. 

“I thought maybe I can help just a little bit, without that stigma surrounding welfare,” Shambaugh-Miller said. 

Most of the nonprofit’s work deals closely with farmers in Southeast Nebraska in collecting produce that would otherwise go to landfills or rot in fields.

Groups of volunteers glean produce that was overlooked in the harvesting process because of its size or appearance.

Produce From the Heart also collects produce that farmers have sorted out after a harvest. Those fruits and vegetables, Shambaugh-Miller said, would either be dumped into landfills or used to feed livestock.

If dumped, rotting produce can emit methane gas, which Shambaugh-Miller said harms the environment. 

He believes produce waste — which accounts for 190 million pounds of wasted food in Nebraska each year — is detrimental in more ways than one.

“When we throw out produce, we’re wasting the water that we use to grow it, the energy that went into planting, growing it, harvesting and transporting it, the man hours that went into it,” Shambaugh-Miller said.

“All of that is now gone.”

As the rural outreach coordinator for the Food Bank of Lincoln, Shambaugh-Miller is able to coordinate distribution of produce at local food pantries the same day it’s collected.

Evrett Lunquist, who runs Common Good Farm near Raymond, has donated unfit-to-sell organic produce to Produce From the Heart since its inception. 

“It’s a good way to take perfectly fine food and bringing it to someone who needs it,” he said.

“There is someone who will eat it.”

Produce from the Heart was founded in 2012 as the Nebraska branch of the Society of St. Andrew, a nationwide food collection-and-distribution organization.

In 2015, Produce From the Heart began operating independently in order to have better access to local funding and…

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