From Holland to Hollandale—Local Farmers Give Back

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November 25, 2019 By: Tina Mortimer Category: Partner News

Van Erkel Farm, located in Hollandale, Minn., falls in Channel One’s service area, but their generosity extends throughout the entire state. For the past two years, Jon Van Erkel has donated onions— 1million pounds-worth so far!—to local food shelves through the Farm to Food Shelf program, a collaboration between Second Harvest Heartland, our Feeding America food bank partners and the State of Minnesota.

The Farm to Food Shelf program, now in its sixth year, offers local farmers the opportunity to donate excess produce to area food shelves throughout the harvest season. By offsetting a portion of harvesting, packaging and transportation costs, Farm to Food Shelf makes it easy for Minnesota growers to donate their surplus crops that would otherwise go unharvested or be discarded. These donations are vital to helping us feed half a million people in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin each year, providing nutritious produce options, which are in high demand, to our clients.

“If I didn’t participate in the program, I’d have to dispose of the onions myself, which would be labor-intensive, time-consuming and costly,” admits Van Erkel. “Farm to Food Shelf makes my life easier and it feels good to give back.”

Farming has been a tradition in the Van Erkel family for four generations. Jon currently runs the farm that his great grandpa, Peter Van Erkel, started when he moved to the US from Holland in 1922. The Great Depression drove the family back to Holland, but in 1935 the family returned to Minnesota and purchased a 20-acre parcel of land in Hollandale. John Henry, Jon’s grandpa, was born in the US and followed in his dad’s footsteps. Then Jon’s dad, Peter, took over. And in 2009, Jon took the reins.

A Growing Tradition

Over the decades, the farm has grown from 20 acres to nearly 4,000 acres, and includes onions, potatoes, carrots, corn, sweet corn and beans.

The onions and potatoes that Jon donates to Second Harvest Heartland for distribution to local food shelves are perfectly edible and fresh, they’re just too small for him to sell.

“The onions we donate are perfect but there is just no market for them,” he explains. “The problem, and I’m guilty of this too, is that consumers are very particular about the produce they purchase. If you have a product that is slightly off, such as an onion that is smaller than average, grocery stores won’t buy it because they know it won’t sell. People buy on appearance, not taste.”

This year’s crops were harvested three weeks later than usual due to a wet spring and summer, but overall, Jon is happy with his current yields and plans to continue donating a truckload of onions a week.

“It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the easy thing because the program works,” Jon said. “If it were a difficult process, I wouldn’t do it.”

Each year in Minnesota, 250 million pounds of edible crops are planted but not harvested or harvested but not sold, creating an agricultural surplus of fresh produce going to waste. When distributed to food shelves, this “ag surplus” makes a significant impact in relieving hunger, improving public health, and reducing healthcare and education costs. The Farm to Food Shelf Program, supported by funding from the State of Minnesota, helps bring this produce to those who need it most, and currently provides an outlet for 55 Minnesota farmers to donate otherwise wasted crops.

Over the past five years, generous farmers have donated 30 million pounds of produce to Second Harvest Heartland to distribute to food shelves and meal programs in 87 Minnesota counties.

Consider Donating!

Are you a Minnesota agricultural producer or processor? Consider donating to the Farm to Food Shelf program. The only requirements for Minnesota farmers are that produce must be surplus that would otherwise go unharvested or discarded and it must meet food safety standards. We welcome all edible crops, including potatoes, sweet corn, cabbage, cantaloupe, onions, carrots and squash.

For more information about how to participate, reimbursements for harvest and packaging and more, please call 877.547.0245 or email produce@2harvest.org.


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