Saving 1000 fishes for the hungry
How a former corporate analyst saved 1000 fish from landfill and fed hundreds
I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with the bad news generated by the climate crisis. So I thought that I would pull out a feel-good story from the archives. This feature was originally published in December of 2020 in Edible San Diego and was lightly edited for a broader readership.
Corine Blackmore had a problem. A big one. The operations manager for Solutions Farm had 1000 fish that needed to be harvested or they would go to waste.
The fish, tilapia, are normally harvested from the aquaponics farm every six weeks, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, they had gone unharvested for months. In November, the fish tanks needed their bi-annual systems maintenance. All the fish at the nonprofit’s center in Vista, California needed to be processed or they would wind up in landfill. “Due to Covid, the companies we have sold to in the past are either closed or doing minimal business and none were able to handle the load,” says Blackmore. “I conferred with my leadership team as to how to move forward on the situation.”
That’s when they contacted Karen Clay.
Where others see waste, Karen Clay sees food. Where others see a crisis, she sees an opportunity. Early in 2010, Clay founded I Love to Glean, which recovers food that would otherwise be wasted and distributes this food to agencies and organizations that get the food to folks who need it.
“Wahoo! Anytime something like this happens, it’s a blessing,” says Clay. The fish are usually harvested at around two pounds, but over the months some of them had grown large. “Some of the fish are up to eight pounds. We’ve got some honking big fish!”
To process the fish, the former systems analyst contacted a fish moving business that usually works with sports fishermen. She also coordinated with a fish processor and people who had the ability to move the processed fish. “We’ve never really done fish recovery before,” she says. “Our main challenge, which happens frequently, is being able to get the limited refrigeration transportation and freezer capacity scheduled.”
Laid off from Hewlett-Packard in 2013, Clay had more time for volunteering. “I’ve always volunteered. I volunteered for Harvest Crop, picking fruit in back yards,” she says. “I met their CEO and helped them form it into a nonprofit.” The next year Clay started working with San Diego Food Systems Alliance, the local organization that advocates for sustainable, equitable, and nutritious food for San Diegans, and has been with the organization ever since. She has also volunteered with Senior Gleaners, which works with folks 55 and over to pick fruit from backyards and collect otherwise wasted foods from markets.
Most of the harvested fish made its way to Father Joe’s Villages, a charity that works to ameliorate and end homelessness in San Diego County. Rocio Hammershaimb, the Division Director of Operations for Father Joe’s was overwhelmed, describing the donation as, “Incredible! It’s not often that we get 150 pounds of any protein. And it’s important that it’s fish. That makes sure that we get people protein other than chicken or beef.”
The large donation comes at a time of increased urgency for feeding those in need. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hammershaimb has seen a 100 percent increase every month in the use Father Joe’s emergency food pantry that distributes food on a drive-up/pick up basis.
Traditionally, Father Joe’s provided lunch to individuals who are living on the street, but since the onset of the pandemic Father Joe’s is providing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They provide three daily meals to Father Joe’s Villages residents, and provide frozen meals distributed to persons living in support housing. “We provide over a million meals each year,” Hammershaimb says.
Father Joe’s will waste none of the fish. Even the fish bones will be cooked up to make soup bases.
“I knew I could make this happen,” Clay says. “This is a wonderful story of collaboration, of people who care about people. Because of what I do, I’ve gotten some food to someone’s stomach.”
News of the week
The Center For Biological Diversity, along with 10 other organizations, is petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the yellow spotted woodland salamander as Endangered. Only a few hundred of the amphibians remain. Much of their habitat has been destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining.
People vs. Fossil Fuels joined over 600 other organizations in sending a letter to the Democratic Leadership of the House and Senate this week demanding an end to the fossil fuel provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act that Senator Joe Manchin was able to shoehorn into the legislation.
The coalition comprises a wide array of environmental and other progressive organizations, from Extinction Rebellion to the Hispanic Access Foundation and the NAACP. Specifically mentioned in the letter is the Mountain Vally Pipeline, which has run afoul of environmental regulations as its backers have tried to complete its 300-mile-long path from northern West Virginia to Virginia. The coalition point out that Manchin’s provisions loosen the screws on those regulations, saying, “This legislation would truncate and hollow-out the environmental review process, weaken Tribal consultations, and make it far harder for frontline communities to have their voices heard by gutting bedrock protections in the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act.”
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