Special Reports

Orosi produce company seeks takers for excess green beans

Orosi farmer Franklin Abe admits his plans for turning a profit out of growing green beans this summer didn't work out as he intended. But what has caught him by surprise is the challenge he faces in donating the beans to charity.

"They are perfectly good beans," said Abe, an owner of Abe-El Produce. "And we are offering them to any group or organization that can use them. But so far, that hasn't happened."

Abe's dilemma is one faced by many farmers suddenly confronted with surplus crops. While farmers are careful about planting produce that will sell, sometimes they plant too much or the market softens and the crop is worth less than the cost of picking.

In Abe's case, he was hit with a double whammy. A shrinking pool of workers along with rising labor costs made it difficult to hire the crew he needed to pick the green beans.

At the same time, the price for green beans fell below the cost of harvesting. In many cases like these, farmers disc the crop into the soil, or let it rot in the field.

But Abe and his assistant farm manager Peter Mesias didn't want the nearly 10 acres of beans to go to waste.

"We know there is a need out there," Mesias said. "And we are hoping we can find a solution."

Local food bank officials say they, too, are looking for a way to recover produce from the field. It's easy when the produce has already been harvested and is waiting in bins to be picked up. It is another issue when it needs to be harvested.

Sandy Beals, executive director of FoodLink for Tulare County, said one of her concerns is liability: "I am pretty sure we could get the volunteers to pick those green beans, but ... we have to be concerned about someone possibly getting hurt, or damaging property. Accidents do happen."

One other option is helping to pay for harvesting. The California Association of Food Banks has a program that helps defray the cost of harvesting. Mesias contacted the organization, but said the reimbursement wasn't enough to make it worth signing up.

Also looking for a solution is Jaclyn Pack, food resources coordinator at the Community Food Bank in Fresno.

Pack said the issue is a frustrating one. The food bank is creating a gleaning program to help pick surplus produce from the field, but it lacks volunteers.

"We have all the paperwork to protect us, the volunteers and growers," Pack said. "The tough part is finding people who we can call and who will be willing to work in 100-degree heat, that is where we struggle."

Pack said she will continue to try and find a way to get those green beans. But time is not on her side. The beans will be good for about a week to 10 days.

After that, Mesias said the crop will be disced.