Keith Carr, City Harvest‘s Healthy Neighborhoods Manager, takes #NoFoodWaste to a whole new level. Not only does he rescue food that would otherwise go to waste, but he gets it to those who need it most.
Please tell us about City Harvest.
Founded in 1982 here in NYC, we were the world’s first (and NYC’s only) food rescue organization. City Harvest is dedicated to helping feed the nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers facing hunger. This year City Harvest will collect 55 million pounds of excess food that would otherwise go to waste from restaurants, grocers, bakeries, manufacturers, greenmarkets and farms, and deliver it free of charge to 500 community food programs across the city.
Donating food can often be difficult due to policy and legal restrictions. How are you able to rescue so much food?
We follow local and national food safety guidelines to ensure donated food is delivered in a safe condition and our donors are protected from liability under Federal and NY State Good Samaritan Laws. We train all recipient agencies in safe food preparation and handling, and agency kitchens are evaluated for their food safety practices. We have a fleet of 22 refrigerated trucks on the road visiting about 2,000 food donors.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Hearing someone at our Mobile Market say that they’ve lost weight, or their diabetes has improved because they use the recipes we provide. Visiting a bodega or supermarket and hearing a customer express how happy they are with the store since we did one of our “produce makeovers”—that the store has more variety and better quality fruits and vegetables. Taking seniors on a farmers’ market tour and seeing the looks on their faces when they try an heirloom tomato for the first time, and then giving them some Health Bucks to buy some to take home.
We are in the midst of our second #NoFoodWaste campaign. #NoFoodWaste is at the core of your business, but what low waste practices do you use at home?
Well, thanks to the NYC Compost Project I have a compost drop off site on my block. I’ve also started doing things my mom and grandmother taught us—blanching veggies and freezing them, and freezing meat. I also try to “re-purpose” leftovers and get creative by using them in something else—soups are a great “melting pot.”
How do you define good food?
Good food is fresh. Good food is local. Good food is not processed. Good food should be affordable to everyone!
The work that you do has a tremendous positive impact on our people and our environment. Who/what is your inspiration?
Our dad was a community leader, heavily involved in community and economic development in Hartford, CT, where I’m from. He was also involved in local politics, and in his younger days helped organize migrant farm workers. Our mom was also civically engaged and was always involved in service projects through organizations that she belonged to. So, I guess I can credit the community service gene, honestly.
What’s one of your first (and most memorable) interactions with food?
My grandparents had a farm in Northeastern Connecticut, where I’d spend my summers as a child. We grew everything from collards and swiss chard to heirloom tomatoes, Kentucky Wonder string beans and Silver Queen corn. We hunted and fished as well. My grandmother was pretty much a gourmet cook, so you can imagine meals were special, especially Thanksgiving. I remember one year the table had venison, rabbit, collards, sweet potatoes, turnips and of course, turkey. There was sweet potato and blueberry pie on deck. I had a “moment” as I looked around at the table and realized that everything on the table came from our land and it tasted soooo good.
Food issues have barely made it into the race for President. If the future President were to consider food waste solutions, how should they be addressed?
I could go on and on about the Farm Bill but… Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, has launched a business called Daily Table. It’s basically a grocery store stocked with rescued food, and customers pay what they can. It removes the stigma of the pantry line and adds dignity to the experience while creating jobs for folks in the community and reducing food waste. So, I’d say to the would-be President, “Fund things like this.”
If you could get the general population to change one aspect of their eating habits, what would it be?
NO MORE PROCESSED FOOD.
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What’s always in your fridge?
I love salads so there’s always some baby spinach or spring mix and Annie’s dressing.
Who is one famous person, dead or alive, that you want to share a meal with? And where?
One of my favorite songs is “Dem Belly Full.” It completely defines City Harvest’s work, so I’d say Bob Marley. I imagine we’re in Jamaica, sitting on his porch. Sun is shining, weather is sweet… And we discuss world politics and revolution over ackees and saltfish, or maybe a roasted red snapper with some rice and peas and callaloo. And, some Appleton Estate to wash it down, of course.
What has been the hardest moment of your job?
Seeing supermarkets that we have worked with close and be torn down to make way for real estate development projects.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
I love music. I sing, and used to play the bass. I’ve also produced concerts and events. So, I could see myself in the music industry in some aspect—not onstage, but behind the scenes. However I do have a recurring dream that I’m on stage with the Rolling Stones…
What’s your favorite meal?
I love one pot meals, so I’d say Rainbow chard with Italian turkey sausage, garlic, onions and peppers.
What is the Healthy Neighborhoods program?
Our Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative is designed to improve healthy food access and knowledge in five neighborhoods within New York City that have a high rate of diet related disease, high poverty, high population density and low access to healthy food options. We work directly with residents, supermarkets and bodegas, and community stakeholders to relieve food insecurity; build nutritional knowledge at the individual, family, and community level; and increase the access to affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Talk about partnering community gardens and pantries.
Community gardens are an overlooked and underutilized source for free or really low-cost, fresh, local produce. And many of them grow more food than their members can use themselves or give away. So much of what they grow just goes to waste. Some of our partner pantries like the Brooklyn Rescue Mission, NEBHDCo and the Bed Stuy Campaign Against Hunger are growing their own food to supplement what they get from us and other sources. Imagine if community gardens would “adopt” a local pantry and donate to them, or dedicate a couple of growing beds for a pantry. They could feed a lot of folks!
What can we do to help City Harvest?
If you’re a restaurant or other food biz, give our Food Sourcing folks a call. If we can’t pick up your food, we’ll try to connect you to a nearby pantry. As an individual, become a volunteer. We literally could not do what we do without volunteers—from food rescues at a Greenmarket to doing a repack at our Food Rescue Facility, or helping to bag and distribute produce at one of our nine Mobile Market locations. Or helping to facilitate a nutrition ed course or cooking demo, we need you. And, I know it sounds cliché, but every penny counts so, donate.
Your good food wish?
I wish everyone had access to good, fresh, affordable food.