Every year, the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York receives donated produce from over 60 local farmers. These successful farm/Food Bank relationships helped the organization distribute over 1.2 million pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables in 2010.

The decade-long partnership between the Food Bank and Black Horse Farms in Coxsackie, NY has been especially productive and culminated with a donation of over 130,000 pounds in 2010 alone. “The donated produce we receive from local farms is the freshest, most nutritious we have to offer to the 1,000 agencies we serve,” said Joanne Dwyer, Director of Food Industry Relations & Business Development Representative for the Food Bank. “One of the reasons that 2010 was such a banner year for our relationship with Black Horse Farms is Mr. Zimmermann’s commitment to the integration of sorting produce that can be donated to the Food Bank as a function of his daily operations for all of the items he grows.”

Lloyd Zimmermann, owner of Black Horse Farms grows more than 30 crops on over 800 acres, including summer and winter squash, peas, cucumbers, peppers and watermelons. The farm has created a system for the most efficient and effective way of sorting saleable produce from that meant for donation.

The farm sets very high standards for the produce it sells to its customers, which include individuals at its farm market locations, wholesalers, retailers and restaurants. The produce donated to the Food Bank will have some flaw that makes it less marketable, but is still wholesome to eat.

“It used to be that the guys would throw anything bad away right in the field, but that also included nutritionally good though unmarketable produce,” said Zimmermann. “Now, they know to pick such items as well and bring them in with the rest for the sorting room to decide. The only difference between the donated produce and the stuff you can buy at our stand, for example, is that it has a blemish – the eating quality is perfect.”

As workers sort the produce in the packing room, there is always a bin set at the sorting table for donation to the Food Bank. “We began to incorporate the Food Bank donation right at the sorting table last year and found that it worked really well,” noted Zimmermann. “Other farms can easily do the same thing as they pack. People will appreciate anything a farmer can give them.”

Items set aside for donation are placed into the farm’s cooler. The farm then calls the Food Bank to arrange pick-up of the items. A Food Bank truck usually arrives the next day and brings the donation back to the Food Bank’s Latham site.

The donated produce is then put out for agencies to take. Fresh produce such as the donation from Black Horse Farms is used by food pantries and feeding programs such as soup kitchens. Ken Cherubin of Bethesda House in Schenectady was one of the first to see the most recent Black Horse Farms donation. “Having fresh produce to choose from is a great asset. Our chef always appreciates being able to incorporate these kinds of items into the meals we serve.”

The benefits of donating don’t rest solely on the side of the Food Bank; it has an impact on everyone at Black Horse Farms as well. “For me, the main benefit is that I know people are getting a wholesome, solid product that is needed and appreciated, but my men feel good as well – something I didn’t realize would happen. They are proud to be helping out and giving back to those who need it the most,” said Zimmermann.

Fresh produce from local farms such as Black Horse Farms is put out for agencies to take back for distribution at a food pantry or to serve at an on-site feeding program. In 2010, the Food Bank served nearly 250,000 people. “We receive a great deal of support from farms, but the system for donation Black Horse Farms has incorporated is truly an innovative, comprehensive approach that can be easily replicated at other farms,” noted Dwyer. “We are grateful to the Zimmermann family for setting a new standard for donations from the farming community and are hopeful their efforts will inspire others.”

For more information on how you too can donate farm-fresh produce, please contact Bob Baker at the Regional Food Bank (bobb@regionalfoodbank.net or 518-786-3691). You can find out all about Black Horse Farms at www.blackhorsefarms.com.