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Spoiled food turns into a bovine buffet

Posted at 10:58 PM, Apr 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-30 01:58:05-04

TUCSON (KGUN-TV) - The Borderlands Food Bank is helping keep produce unfit for human consumption out of the landfill and turning it into lunch.

The food bank rescues fruits and vegetables from produce distributors along the I-19 corridor. Millions of pounds of produce comes from Mexico through the Mariposa port of entry to be shipped around the country. Some of the food they receive sits for too long, has deformities, or they just cannot sell it so they donate it to the Borderlands Food Bank.

"We've been rescuing fresh produce that would have otherwise gone to the landfill," said Yolanda Soto, president and CEO of Borderlands Food Bank.

Soto says they have different ways to get food to those who need it across the state. They give it to people directly from their Nogales warehouse, or use programs like Produce On Wheels With Out Waste to ship it around the state. People can get up to 60 pounds of fresh produce for $10.

There is one drawback to dealing in fresh produce though: it spoils.

"We're working with perishable product and you know it's going to perish, we've already rescued it," said Soto.

A portion of their food becomes "unfit for human consumption" and rather than throw it away they ship it to dozens of ranches in Santa Cruz County to feed ranch animals.

Nine On Your Side tagged along as the food bank made a delivery for Gil Bustamante's cattle.

"As soon as they hear the truck coming they start gathering around and digging into the tomatoes and everything else," said Bustamante.

A truck filled with old fruits and veggies dumped a load on the ranch for a waiting group of cattle.

He says they love the produce, treating it like desert. They are especially fond of squash.

Bustamante switches between hay and produce to feed his cattle. He does not want them to get too used to the fresh produce. However, over the years he says they may have become a little picky.

"Honestly it looks like they enjoy the produce more than the hay it seems like," said Bustamante.

There is an economic component to this as well.

For the food bank, it this means they do not have to pay the county landfill to dump. In the past, Borderlands was allowed to dump their leftovers for free. The landfill then put a cap on the amount they could dump. Since last year, they have not been able to dump there for free and will not be able to until July 1st according to Soto. She says they have reached out to more ranchers in the county to deliver their extra produce.

For the ranchers, it is free food for the livestock. Bustamante says it is especially helpful during the winter months when hay prices are highest.