Kurt Poehler at the Red Bank Farmer’s Market in May, 2020. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
The farmer who trigged a backlash over disposed produce at the Red Bank Farmer’s Market Sunday defended the practice as a normal result of sorting Wednesday.
In addition, an organization that puts surplus produce into the hands of those who need it backed him for donating carloads of fruit and vegetables weekly, including Sunday.
The market draws hundreds of shoppers to the Galleria parking lot Sundays from May to October. Below, a view of the dumpster Sunday. (Photos by John T. Ward, and Brian Donohue, below. Click to enlarge.)
The flap arose after two borough residents separately expressed alarm at what appeared to be edible produce tossed into a dumpster at the Galleria of Red Bank on West Front Street, where the weekly market is held.
One, Lorraine Mannix, said she confronted a farmstand worker as he unloaded a dolly of fruit and vegetables into the bin. Afterward, she voiced outrage via email to the Galleria’s owners, local officials and redbankgreen.
“We were shocked, and noticed that the vegetables and greens that were in the dumpster were not spoiled and looked fresh,” she wrote. “It was so jarring to see a dumpster filled with fresh produce.”
Another, Brian Donohue, posted on Instagram about what he called a “puzzling” disposal of what appeared to be edible strawberries and other produce.
In response, Galleria principal George Sourlis told Mannix via email that the market’s vendors “donate a substantial amount of food to the local Red Bank food banks” and that a relatively small amount gets tossed after the farmers “carefully and painstakingly sifted through to ensure that only the freshest food is donated.”
On Wednesday, Spring House Farms owner Kurt Poehler said that’s exactly what happened Sunday, and just about every Sunday, when he donates carloads of produce to Jersey Shore Farms Not Bombs, a volunteer organization that distributes it immediately afterward in Asbury Park to anyone who wants it.
The dumpster was not “filled” with produce, he said, and the vegetables and fruit in it had been sorted out as both unsellable and unfit to give away, Poehler told redbankgreen.
“You’re in an open market in 90-degree heat all day long,” he said in a phone interview. “If you have a pepper that’s damaged or moldy, you can’t sell it, and the food banks aren’t going to take it.”
Most consumers, he said, have no idea how much food has to be left in the farm fields because it is unsafe or unsellable, and this is no different.
“We don’t throw away good perishables,” he said. In 20 years of operation, no one had previously accused him of throwing away edible produce, he said, adding he felt “disrespected” that no one had approached him directly on Sunday.
He’s taken so much flak in recent days that he won’t be donating anymore because sorting and discarding “makes me out to be the bad guy.”
Jason Petrino, a volunteer with Food Not Bombs, confirmed that Spring House is a regular donor of produce to the organization and “has provided us with tons of produce since the farmer’s market reopened in May.”
Petrino said he did not see the discards on Sunday, and conceded after seeing photos of the bin that “a lot of it looks good.”
But given that Poehler sometimes donates “more than we can even handle… I don’t see why he would toss perfectly good produce.”
One of the reasons Food Not Bombs exists, he said, is to reduce food waste. But that is a “a secondary issue” to getting food to those who need it, he said via text.
“I hope this doesn’t discourage folks from shopping at their local farmer’s market,” Petrino said. “Many grocery stores surely waste more than the market ever could, you just don’t see inside their dumpsters as easily. And add to that, some of those big grocery stores refuse to donate their good food waste to the community unlike the market has done.”
Doris Lin, another Foods Not Bombs volunteer, posted on Facebook:
Every week, at the end of the selling day, our volunteers load up 3, 4, or sometimes 5 cars with donated food. On the rare occasions when there was more than we could carry, good food might have been thrown away. We don’t know what happened in this particular incident, but this is not a common occurrence.
She included a photo of a car packed with cartons of vegetables that had been donated by market vendors Sunday.