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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 6:46 am | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

Veggie Rescue in Santa Ynez Valley Brings Fresh Produce from Farm to Table

Nonprofit organization collects and redirects food to schools, senior centers and other community groups that serve the hungry

Volunteers for Santa Ynez Valley Fruit & Vegetable Rescue, nicknamed Veggie Rescue, harvest lettuce from an area farm. The organization says one of its teams of 10 to 12 volunteers can usually fill a van in about three hours. Click to view larger
Volunteers for Santa Ynez Valley Fruit & Vegetable Rescue, nicknamed Veggie Rescue, harvest lettuce from an area farm. The organization says one of its teams of 10 to 12 volunteers can usually fill a van in about three hours. (Tenley Fohl Photography photo)

It’s nickname, “Veggie Rescue,” clearly defines the mission of Santa Ynez Valley Fruit & Vegetable Rescue: to “glean” local produce and deliver it to “organizations that feed people.”

The nearly 6-year-old 501(c)3 nonprofit organization thrives on collecting and “redirecting” produce from farms, farmers markets, orchards and backyard gardens, and transporting it — usually within the same day — to schools for lunch programs, senior centers and groups throughout Santa Barbara County that serve the hungry.

Veggie Rescue’s goal is simple, executive director Amy Derryberry said: “We want to feed local, fresh food to our community.”

And so Veggie Rescue does, to the tune of more than 120,000 pounds of produce collected during 2015, she said.

The beneficiaries of Veggie Rescue are many. In the Santa Ynez Valley, they include the Solvang and Buellton senior centers, the Solvang Friendship HouseSanta Ynez Recovery Ranch, People Helping People, Santa Ynez Valley Charter School, Santa Ynez Valley Union High School and Solvang School; in Lompoc, Catholic Charities Food Pantry, Bridge House, Good Samaritan sites and “Pastor Doug,” who ministers to recovering addicts; the Santa Maria Salvation Army; and in Santa Barbara, PATH (formerly Café Esperanza), Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, Noah’s Anchorage and Food From the Heart, Derryberry said.

She noted that Veggie Rescue’s donations helped those organizations save $210,000 from their respective food budgets last year, “and recipients are eating better because we are giving them fresh, organic produce.”

When her outfit is the recipient of fundraising dinners or events, Derryberry’s goal is to inform the public.

“Our fundraising goal is to continue to educate people on how abundant the Santa Barbara County food supply is, and how many people are still going hungry,” she said. “At Veggie Rescue, we can bridge that need, but we are not solving the problem.”

Carrots harvested fresh from the farms are the bulk of Veggie Rescue’s total produce.
Carrots harvested fresh from the farms are the bulk of Veggie Rescue’s total produce. (Tenley Fohl Photography photo)

Veggie Rescue’s sole full-time employees are Derryberry and Emily Bennett, who drives the refrigerated white van that ferries produce from the field to recipients. Veggie Rescue’s bookkeeper works half time, Derryberry said.

Via a grant from the DeLaski Family Foundation, Derryberry was able to hire Bennett, and the now-defunct, Santa Barbara-based Orfalea Foundation provided Veggie Rescue its van.

Regarding the same-day deliveries of perishable produce, Derryberry noted: “Our goal is to have the van empty every night.”

The exception would be any produce collected in the late afternoon, such as after the Solvang Farmers Market. The van’s cooling unit “can be plugged in overnight to keep its contents cool,” she added.

There are nearly as many suppliers of fruits and vegetables as there are recipients. Along with Solvang’s farmers market, the Goleta Farmers Market proffers its leftover and/or blemished produce, as do many farms and businesses, among them Burkdoll Farms, Classic Organics, El Rancho Market, Finley Farms Organic, Goleta Family Farms, Nojoqui Farms and Santa Rita Flower Farm, according to VeggieRescue.org.

“Farmers markets typically give us what they don’t sell, which varies by week,” Derryberry said.

While the type of produce Veggie Rescue receives is seasonal, there are particular mainstay vegetables, including carrots and various lettuces. In the summer are loads of tomatoes, squash, corn and cucumbers. Summertime yields fruits, including local plums, peaches, nectarines, pluots and grapes.

Derryberry’s goal is to glean every other weekend at a local farm, using Veggie Rescue’s team of volunteers to pick and load the goods. An average of 10 to 12 volunteers show up to glean; their capacity is the size of the van, which the volunteers can usually pack with produce within three hours flat.

It’s those visits to farms, both commercial and private, that make plain “how much food is available and under utilized,”​ Derryberry said.

“Farmers can always till under excess vegetables back into the soil, but the (leftover) produce is really an untapped resource,” she said.

And occasionally there’s more available produce than even Veggie Rescue can give to its recipients, so it pays it forward.

Last year, Veggie Rescue shared 30,000 pounds of excess produce with the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, Derryberry said.

“Sometimes we get pallets of produce given to us, so we can donate in bulk,” she said.

Click here for more information about Veggie Rescue or to donate.

— Contributing writer Laurie Jervis writes Noozhawk’s​ Wine Country column, blogs about wine at www.centralcoastwinepress.com, tweets at @lauriejervis, and can be reached via [email protected].

Amy Derryberry, executive director of Veggie Rescue, makes it her job to “feed local, fresh food to our community.” A donated refrigerated van allows the organization to provide same-day delivery. Click to view larger
Amy Derryberry, executive director of Veggie Rescue, makes it her job to “feed local, fresh food to our community.” A donated refrigerated van allows the organization to provide same-day delivery. (Tenley Fohl Photography photo)

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