Curiosity led Phil Muir to inquire about the recipients of his company’s produce donations, but his enormous heart led him to build a long-term relationship with them. Here’s how one member of the fresh produce industry is identifying small ways to make a big impact.
Like most produce companies, Muir Copper Canyon Farms in Salt Lake City, UT donates to food banks, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and more. But it’s because of the initiative of Phil Muir, President & CEO of Muir Copper Canyon Farms and Chairman of the United Fresh Start Foundation Board of Trustees, that the company has set a new standard for giving back.
Phil approaches his business philanthropy the way he approaches his business: by learning as much as he can about to make the most informed decisions that will produce lasting results.
After several months of donating produce to a food rescue organization, Phil asked where his donations were going. When he learned they were delivered to the nearby Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salt Lake (BGC), he called BGC and suggested they apply for a United Fresh Start Foundation Community Grant.
Much to Phil’s delight the Boys and Girls Club applied and was awarded a grant, enabling them to include a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in their Triple Play: Healthy Habits program. The program includes lessons about healthy living, nutrition, and cooking.
Eager to see the impact of the grant firsthand, Phil reached out again to schedule a visit. “And that changed everything,” he said.
When he arrived, the Club was jam-packed with kids of all ages. While younger kids enjoyed donated bananas and apples, others congregated in the kitchen to turn Phil’s donated zucchini into bread.
Gathered around stainless-steel tables piled high with zucchini, it quickly became evident to Phil that the kids weren’t well-versed in preparing fresh produce. “They were trying to peel zucchini with a paring knife!” Phil recalls. But, as he talked to them about their backgrounds and their experience with fresh produce, he understood why.
“Most of them hadn’t cooked or learned kitchen skills at home” he explains. Fortunately, one girl who had learned cooking skills during her six years at the Boys and Girls Club, grabbed a peeler and demonstrated to her peers how to safely remove zucchini skin.
During his visit, Phil learned that most of the Club’s kids benefit from free school breakfast, lunch, and in-class snacks from the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, while at school. Then, they come to the Boys and Girls Club, where they eat dinner provided by the local food bank.
“I realized that these kids are eating three meals a day, plus a produce snack, in large part as a result of United Fresh’s policy efforts,” Phil says. “These kids are recipients of everything United Fresh has done, and everything the United Fresh Start Foundation has done.”
Yet, not all kids are so lucky. And even these lucky ones didn’t regularly enjoy fresh produce at home.
It was clear to Phil that his work was not done. How could he, as the leader of a produce wholesaler and distributor, use his business insights, partners, and product to build on and sustain what United Fresh, the United Fresh Start Foundation, and the Boys and Girls Club had made possible for these kids?
To find out, he did what he always does – he asked questions. He asked the Club director what they needed to strengthen the program. He asked what produce-based programming was offered at other Boys and Girls Clubs. And he asked kids about how the cooking program was helping them.
Before he left, the kids expressed their deep gratitude, thanking him and the United Fresh Start Foundation for making the produce snacks and zucchini bread possible.
Inspired by the kids, Phil returned to his office, picked up the phone, and called his business partners and his competitors. During FreshStart 2019’s Wednesday morning conference sessions, Phil will share what he – and the others he brought on board – have been able to accomplish.
Phil started by simply taking the initiative to learn more about an organization he was already loosely connected to, and then considered how to take that connection one step further. As you’ll witness at FreshStart 2019, it’s Phil’s curiosity, commitment to kids, and willingness to be creative with his business that is making a difference for kids in Salt Lake.
“As the fresh produce supply chain, we see how our food system fits together. This gives us a unique ability to identify simple adjustments to how we operate that can have a big impact in communities,” says Phil.
“Anyone can do this. Growers. Shippers. Processors. Anyone in our industry,” he emphasizes. “There are schools, after school programs, and people in need everywhere we are. And there’s so many ways to help, right under our nose.”
By: Kate Olender, Senior Director, Health & Wellness, United Fresh Produce Association