By Aurora Saldivar, Coachella Unincorporated
Coachella, Calif. — Inspired by the mass quantities of food Americans throw away, Christy Porter decided to tackle the hunger problem in the Coachella Valley over ten years ago.
“(With) twenty-seven percent field waste and thirty percent plate waste,” says Porter, “there is no reason for anyone to be hungry in our country.”
Porter founded Hidden Harvest in 2001, a non-profit that rescues produce from eastern Coachella Valley fields and distributes them to over 60 agencies serving low-income residents throughout the region.
Porter’s fight against hunger took root in Mecca, where she built edible gardens at Saul Martinez Elementary School. She was struck by a question posed to her by a the father at the school: Why is so much of the food left to rot in the fields where I work?
“When I came here, we didn’t need policy as much as we needed food,” she says. “Kids can’t eat red tape while you’re waiting for policy to take effect. People are still hungry.”
Local farmers notify Hidden Harvest when there is product left in the fields that would not make it into grocery stores due to cosmetic blemishes or cost to harvest. The non-profit quickly hires crews to harvest the remaining produce.
“Our biggest problem is not that the produce, it’s out there. It’s getting the farmers to remember to call us before they plow it up,” explains Porter, who believes tax incentives for participating farmers would be helpful. “It is big business for them to hold a crop in the field, even for one day.”
“Produce is getting harder and harder to come by,” says Porter. “Since 2008, the demand for food in food banks has gone up 60 percent. We were probably serving 20 to 25 thousand people back then, but farmers started selling more and more and more of their products so our access to products went down about 50 percent.”
It is a constant struggle for Hidden Harvest to access produce when supply is down, but the need within the community is still prevalent.
“I find it hard to get enough produce to feed the beast,” says Porter.
“We haven’t had any help from federal or state dollars. It’s not that we are opposed to it, it’s just we haven’t had any. We are kind of small, so we are trying to get money by grants or by public contribution, but that’s a lot of work. That’s what I do all the time. I’m raising money day and night.”
This fall, Porter plans to light a fire and challenge California farmers with a program called Just One Row.
“We are going to try to persuade our farmers to give us just one row of each of their crops,” said Porter. “We know that one row, one row, of carrots is ten thousand pounds of carrots. That is a lot of carrots. We could do a lot with that.”
In the quest to end domestic hunger, Hidden Harvest employs about six hundred local farm workers in the course of the year. The organization feeds, educates, employs, and inspires hope within the community year round – many times using Porter’s moving photography as a catalyst.
“How can you photograph hunger?” asks the former photojournalist. “Part of our job is to convince people that it is out there.”
To learn more about Hidden Harvest, please visit www.hiddenharvest.org.