Even on a busy week, many farmers who sell their harvests at the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Markets have leftovers when customers head home. Now, with many sheltering in place rather than venturing to the markets during the COVID-19 outbreak, there may be more surplus than ever before. In swoops Veggie Rescue to the, well, rescue, once again.
The nonprofit, which was founded by Santa Ynez residents Terry and Holly Delaney in 2011, “collects excess produce and high-quality prepared food from farms, farmers’ markets, backyards, and businesses, then distributes directly to schools and organizations serving those in need, at no cost to the recipient,” explained Amy Derryberry, a longtime volunteer who became the organization’s first executive director in 2015. “Our mission is to improve the nutrition and quality of life for our community members who are struggling with food insecurity by providing them with healthy, local produce and to work with farmers to reduce food waste at the beginning of the food cycle.”
The Delaneys came up with the idea after visiting a friend who was living at the Salvation Army, where the food almost all came from cans or freezers. The next time they hit the farmers’ market, they asked farmers to donate, and it snowballed from there, eventually including harvesting apples from unused orchards and gleaning backyard produce from those who grew too much.
Today, they work with more than 70 farmers and distribute food in more than 40 locations throughout Santa Barbara County, including schools, homeless shelters, senior centers, and the Foodbank. They are also one of the primary players behind SBC Food Rescue, which redistributes prepared but unsold food from restaurants in a similar manner. On March 9, Veggie Rescue celebrated a huge milestone by throwing a “Million Pound Party.”
Then came COVID-19. On March 13, the board decided to suspend operations due to concerns of spreading the virus. “I spent the weekend feeling miserable, knowing that the need for food was increasing as people who were already struggling were losing their income and may not have access to meals from their school,” said Derryberry, who’s lived in the Santa Ynez Valley for 32 years and was previously the marketing manager for New Frontiers in Solvang.
She immediately began working with the Public Health Department “to come up with protocol for our drivers to protect the food, the drivers, and the public” and convincing the board to let operations resume. “As of today, we are delivering to new sites in Solvang and Los Alamos, as well as supporting existing delivery locations,” she said.
The volunteer backyard harvest operations remain on hold for now. But Derryberry said anyone wanting to donate fresh fruits and vegetables from their properties can still inquire by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The situation for farmers right now is very tenuous, said Derryberry, as a lack of sales to restaurants and to the public through the markets is making some unable to pay employees. At least Veggie Rescue is helping to close one part of that loop.
“Growing up, I wanted to be a farmer,” said Derryberry. “While I am not a farmer, I think I have an even better job, helping to get nutritious food to people in need.”