Public Market Pickers

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Words by Elise Miklich, above photos by Mike Martinez

Some people believe that it is impossible for one person to make a significant impact on the world. 

Khoury Humphrey is not one of those people.

The 28-year-old Oklahoma native is the founder of Flower City Pickers, a secular, all-inclusive group that rescues and redistributes leftover produce from Rochester's Public Market. Every Saturday, Humphrey and his crew of helpers redistribute the food they collect to local homeless shelters, halfway houses, soup kitchens, food pantries, and other organizations that are in need of food. If the food isn’t fit for re-distribution, FCP will use it for composting or what they like to call “critter food.” 

With nothing but a sign on his back and his own two hands, Humphrey created an organization that now collects close to 1,000 pounds of food per hour and has rescued more than 150,000 pounds of food in the past year.

Flower City Pickers volunteers sort through produce. Photo provided by FCP.

Flower City Pickers volunteers sort through produce. Photo provided by FCP.

Since its launch in January 2015, Flower City Pickers has quickly grown from one set of hands to more than 400 rotating volunteers. The group collects donations every Saturday as the vendors begin to pack up for the day, but occasionally receives donations from market-goers as well. “For some of these vendors, it just isn’t cost effective to re-load and store the food for the next market day,” Humphrey explains. “A lot of them don’t have the space or the means of keeping the produce fresh for that period of time.” 

Flower City Pickers volunteers sort through packaged goods. Photo provided by FCP.

Flower City Pickers volunteers sort through packaged goods. Photo provided by FCP.

The food Flower City Pickers collects is sorted into three categories; A for ‘astonishing,’ B for ‘blemished,’ or C for ‘critter or compost food.’ The A and B food that is not redistributed is donated to the group Food Not Bombs to make a vegetarian dinner. The meal is cooked at Saint Joseph's House of Hospitality Soup Kitchen on South Avenue and served in Nathaniel Square Park on the corner of Alexander Street and South Clinton. It's free of charge to anyone who shows. 

The FCP crew works in the rain, snow and sleet without fail. Because of the increasingly harsh weather conditions in the Rochester area, FCP raised money to buy a winter sorting shelter—in this case, an old school bus, gutted for storage and workspace. 

Volunteers sort near the FCP winter shelter bus. Photo provided by FCP.

Volunteers sort near the FCP winter shelter bus. Photo provided by FCP.

Whether it’s lettuce that has begun to wilt or bananas that became a bit too ripe, our culture has become accustomed to creating garbage instead of creating change. 

By the end of my conversation with Humphrey, I feel guilty for all the food I have wasted in the past. “You know, you can bring food from your own refrigerator to shelters,” Humphrey says. He stresses the importance of educating the public about alternative routes for aging food products.

And it’s true.

Under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, you are no longer “…subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the person or gleaner donates in good faith to a nonprofit organization for ultimate distribution to needy individuals."

Humphrey, left, and a volunteer wheel produce through the Public Market. Photo provided by FCP.

Humphrey, left, and a volunteer wheel produce through the Public Market. Photo provided by FCP.

The ways to get involved outnumber the excuses we can make.

Flower City Pickers is always looking for volunteers and donations, but they’re also seeking help restoring the winter shelter bus. Currently, they are in need of paint, tools for rust and paint repairs (such as a sandblaster) and help with automotive repairs.