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November 20: Christy Porter
hristy Porter; Founder of Hidden Harvest
Originally from: Kentucky Education: University of Kentucky First job: Photojournalist for the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader Fun fact: Christy's photos have appeared in Vanity Fair, Newsweek and People!
Christy Porter is the founder of Hidden Harvest, an innovative produce-recovery organization in California's fertile Coachella Valley. The region is best known as the home of Palm Springs chic, golf courses and celebrities. What's less known is the area has a child poverty rate near 70 percent; some of the nation's poorest citizens (farm workers) live here just miles from some of the wealthiest.
After moving here in 1995, Christy noticed the widespread need, and also saw there were miles upon miles of farmer's fields along the roadside. People were going hungry while living right next to an abundant food source. Christy discovered that over 25 percent of all food crops nationally are abandoned due to cosmetic imperfections, overproduction or market fluctuations in price. Recognizing a solution right before her eyes, she revived the ancient practice of "gleaning". At different times in history, farmers have allowed the poor to harvest unwanted produce from their fields. Today Hidden Harvest systemizes the "rescue" collection and distribution of unwanted but perfectly fresh produce providing a living wage to the working poor to harvest the yield. The produce — over seven million pounds since 2001 — is then distributed free-of-charge to over 75 groups that feed the hungry in eastern Riverside County, California.
Christy came to her love of growing things as a child in Kentucky, where her grandfather was a farmer and her father was a coal miner. Exposure to the coal mining life (her father later died of black lung disease) gave her an early introduction to social inequities. Later, while attending the University of Kentucky, she was a writing student of sustainability guru Wendell Berry — decades before sustainability was a popular buzzword. The experience taught her to look to the land for sustenance and solutions.
Straying temporarily from her agricultural roots, after degrees in journalism and literature from the University of Kentucky, Christy first became a photojournalist for the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader. After covering presidential campaigns, insurgencies and lots of horse racing, Christy's photographic journey led her to Los Angeles and then the Northwest. Her photographs have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, People, the New York Times, Vanity Fair and other publications. After covering an especially back-biting presidential campaign in 1988, she began looking for work with a more direct and positive impact on people's lives.
She accepted a position with the Washington State Governor's Task Force on Hunger in 1989. From then on, the issue of hunger — and innovative and effective ways to ease it — would consume her days. She first worked with policy leaders, learning the big picture issues. But ultimately Christy was more drawn to the dirt — picking carrots and grapes with farmworkers — than politics and endless meetings in conference rooms.
Hidden Harvest was once a produce rescue organization that delivered hundreds of pounds of produce in Christy's old Subaru. It now moves millions of pounds of fresh, local produce with its mighty fleet of seven refrigerated vehicles. Providing a living wage for the working poor while putting fresh, healthy food on the table of hungry families is HH's primary mission. Christy was recognized by CA First Lady Maria Shriver with the Minerva Award in 2007.
Hidden Harvest models one elegant, practical solution to hunger which can — and should be — replicated throughout California and the nation. Hidden Harvest's upcoming project "Hidden Harvest in a Box" will share the how-to's for creating a similar produce rescue organization in communities around the U.S.