New Orleans Food & Farm Network launches Operation Food Rescue to reduce on-farm losses

NEW ORLEANS, LA. November 13, 2017--(MARKET WIRE)—Today the New Orleans Food and Farm Network (NOFFN) announced the start of the implementation phase of Operation Food Rescue in conjunction with Ceres 504, a food incubator and research lab. The program was launched earlier this year with a $25,000 seed grant from Valmiki 504, the venture capital fund affiliated with Ceres 504. Reducing waste in the food chain is a key business initiative for Ceres 504, and Operation Food Rescue will specifically focus on reducing on-farm losses (a very important but often under-emphasized part of systemic food wastage), by implementing a reliable, focused and scalable solution with the right partners in the local food supply chain in the South Louisiana region.

Over 40% of the edible food in the United States goes to waste each year, both pre- and post-consumer; a large portion of that waste happens before the food even reaches our plates. According to ReFED, the research collaboration focusing on food waste, American consumers, businesses, and farms spend $218 billion annually (1.3% of GDP) on growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten. This inefficiency in the system wastes resources - food waste consumes 21% of all water fresh water, 19% of fertilizer, and fills 21% of landfill volume. Historically food waste is thought of as a problem in the downstream side – either at the consumer or at the retail store level, and most programs and resources have gone to addressing that part of the chain. However, food waste typically starts at the production stage with farms often unable to sell a substantial amount of perfectly usable and nutritious produce that are not cosmetically perfect for the retail storefront. Much of this is left unharvested in farmer’s fields, never reaching the food supply and are called on-farm losses. There are very few studies, programs or capital resources addressing this part of the food supply – Operation Food Rescue was launched to address this oft ignored but still very important part of the food wastage chain.

There are a whole host of reasons why a perfectly safe, nutritious crop may be left in the field, and a combination of reasons is common: Timing and weather are critical when it comes to producing a crop; pollination may have failed due to poor weather, leading to mis-shapenness; a nutrient deficiency could have produced a discoloration; or there could be minor pest damage that doesn’t affect the quality of the vegetable itself. As NOFFN continues to study the long solutions associated with chronic food wastage issues in Louisiana, Operation Food Rescue begins an implementation phase to address the short term issues causing on-farm losses in the state, specifically the Plaquemines Parish area which has been heavily impacted this harvest season because of the hurricanes and citrus scab (a cosmetic condition which discolors the skin of the fruit while leaving the inside totally unaffected).

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NOFFN was created to fill gaps in the local food system. The robust farming landscape in the New Orleans region today is the result of the foundational work of NOFFN. Since 2002, NOFFN has provided support, capacity-building, and technical assistance to a wide range of emerging agricultural projects such as Hollygrove Market & Farm, Grow Dat Youth Farm, the training of innovative farmers and food entrepreneurs. Operation Food Rescue fills a critical gap by developing a structured and scalable solution to on-farm losses. The program’s goals are to prevent waste in the supply chain, reduce the negative impact it has on our environment while providing a market for farmers and increasing the supply of local food.

Sanjay Kharod, Executive Director, said in a statement – “NOFFN has always looked for ways to build a sustainable food supply chain through partnerships, collaboration, and coordination along the value chain, from growers to distributors, and everyone in between. Operation Food Rescue has allowed us to create a robust network that is a long-term solution to this problem. We’re engaging farmers and producers, food processors, distributors, end-markets, and consumers to identify opportunities to rescue produce from going to waste on a regular basis. We are extremely thrilled and gratified by the support from Valmiki 504 in this endeavor.”

“The key is to find a means by which growers can earn money from what they produce even when they are imperfect. Often the economics are such that harvesting the crop costs more than what they can get at market. This is where NOFFN steps in. Implementing Operation Food Rescue has two parts. One part is working with volunteers to harvest what would become on-farm losses. This includes engaging these individuals and others in understanding how building a local food system in general and reducing on-farm losses in particular is important for our local economy. The other part is connecting growers with food entrepreneurs thereby increasing farmers income. We plan to work with volunteer groups and citrus growers over the next few months to reduce on-farm losses. In other months, we’ll be working with other growers in the region. In addition, we will be providing public information on the impacts of food waste on the economy and environment. If you are interested you can contact us by writing to LoveFood.HateWaste@noffn.org.”

Valmiki 504 LLC is a New Orleans-based venture capital firm with two venture funds serving the Louisiana startup ecosystem and local investors. It is a subsidiary of Valmiki Capital Management LP, a New York-based asset management company which invests in industry verticals through partnerships with industry incubators/accelerators. Ceres 504 is a Valmiki affiliated incubator in the food services and brands sector, currently involved in a number of research and business initiatives in the local food chain in the South Louisiana region.