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Climate Action Hero – Martha Elder, Executive Director, Second Chance Foods

Bedford 2030 first met Martha Elder, the Executive Director of Second Chance Foods, as volunteer “gleaners”, harvesting fresh produce at Hilltop Hanover Farm. Second Chance Foods keeps environmental practices at the forefront of their work, turning organic produce, donated groceries, and surplus food into delicious meals for those in need, then feeding local animals with scraps and composting the leftovers. We sat down with Martha to learn more about their extrordinary efforts to reduce food waste while feeding hungry community members.

Tell us a little bit about Second Chance Foods.

The mission of Second Chance Foods is to elevate the health of people and the planet. By recovering and repurposing food from local sources, we are able to address hunger and break the cycle of food waste at the same time.

In 2016, we formed as a non-profit and began rescuing food from grocery stores. The following year, we turned 60 pounds of imperfect carrots into carrot ginger soup and launched our prepared meal program. Our capacity has grown every year, but the pandemic was really a pivotal time for us. Our organization grew rapidly to address increasing food insecurity. 

How did you get started with Second Chance Foods?

From my prior jobs in social work and foster care, the devastating effects of poverty and hunger on families was clear to me. I reflected on the fact that I had never been in the position of missing a meal and I thought about the inequity of that. The environmental piece was also compelling. Most people don’t realize that the third most impactful way to reverse global warming is by reducing food waste. This is something everyone can do – and it doesn’t cost a thing. In fact, it actually saves you money!

You have mentioned that food waste and sustainability are key concerns. What does Second Chance Foods do to address them?

Here is an astounding statistic: 35% of food produced in the US is wasted. At Second Chance Foods, we use surplus foods that could otherwise end up in the waste stream and glean produce that would be left in a field or orchard. We are intentional and creative about using every bit of food we have on hand. Our kitchen is masterful at cooking and processing food to extend shelf life, by making sauces and cobblers, for example, or freezing tomato sauce or pickling cucumbers and radishes. Even our veggie scraps are used as animal feed for hogs and chickens, or composted. We pride ourselves on being resourceful.

How does Second Chance Foods work?

The first step is food collection and we are fortunate to have many partners that provide us with nutritious ingredients. Over 6500 pounds of food is picked up and delivered to our kitchen in an average week, including surplus from stores in the Brewster area such as Trader Joe’s, Ace Endico and DeCicco and Sons. We also receive donations from Walden Meat as well as private orchards and vegetable gardens. The summer is an added bonanza with gleaning sessions held at Hilltop Hanover Farm and Glynwood. Next we figure out the best way to deliver fresh produce or turn these ingredients into healthy, delicious meals, which are distributed through multiple food pantries and community organizations. We had 18 of these hunger relief partners at last count. Last year we delivered nearly 68,000 meals.  

That’s a lot of ingredients and a lot of meals! How do you manage it?

We have a very small staff, so are almost entirely volunteer-run. Our volunteers do everything from food collecting and harvesting, to cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, to helping distribute food. We are always happy to welcome new volunteers and it’s easy to sign up on our website. We will be moving to a new location early next year and can also use help with packing up. 

Visit https://secondchancefoods.org/ for more information about their programs, volunteering, and donations.