Hannah Semler, founder of food system consulting, Whole Crops, and co-founder of online farmers market, FarmDrop, guides her work with a simple message: respect. “An equitable food system has to start with respect for people and respect for nature.” Semler is trying to change the story of food from production to consumption through better integrating collaborative supply chains with “food education, sharing economies, and social impact opportunities” that will lead to no waste and less loss.
Through Whole Crops, Semler “works with a diverse array of organizations, institutions, and partners who want to address the problem of food insecurity with increased food access and a reduction of on-farm food loss.” Additionally, Semler works as a fellow with The Fink Family Foundation to expand her work approaching food access in innovative ways with various organizations across different states. She is also co-facilitating a Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, “Farm Level Surplus Working Group.” Finally, Semler is the interim Maine Gleaning Network Coordinator and co-facilitates the Portland, ME Food Recovery Coalition.
“Whole Crops is shifting the story of how food gets to people,” says Semler. “Our goal is to increase access to sufficient, quality food through all channels. We are working with hundreds of local food producers, food businesses, non-profit organizations, and governmental agencies with a food systems design approach that builds connectivity and reciprocity.” Whole Crops has a mission to build a more collaborative, less wasteful food system within a vision of food production models that work together to feed communities.
Farmers need an advocate to ensure that they can sell their whole crop to buyers, instead of sorting crops for quality and letting “ugly-looking” crops rot in the field. To do this, Semler is trying “to prove to the farmers and the market that what is left in the field has economic and social value.” She says, “both need to be considered simultaneously along with the ecological footprint of leaving good food in the field. Why on earth aren’t we eating what we grow?”
To advocate for farmers, Semler co-founded FarmDrop, an online farmers market to help producers secure a steady income, grow their businesses, and reduce post-harvest farm loss. With FarmDrop, producers only deliver what they have already sold online, but provide the variety and choice customers are looking for. In discussing the types of food systems to sustainably feed communities, Semler says, “FarmDrop is showcasing the power of local agro-ecological food producers that know best how to take care of the land on which they depend and can further support each other through the effects of climate change.”
Ultimately, recovering lost crops in fields from small localized farms back into the food system can create an opportunity for local food to become more affordable and accessible to more people. Reducing the stresses of post-harvest handling and promoting a Whole Crops purchasing system can eliminate sorting for cosmetic standards, reduce the cost of production, and make local food systems more viable. Educating volunteers and consumers about the work that each crop requires can influence food purchasing behavior to be more accepting of all produce regardless of appearance. After all, Semler says, “the fruits and vegetables available on our local farms are fresh, nutritious, and can fill the bellies of an ongoing conversation on how communities can take care of each other while impacting the national agenda on the future of food.”