Try as I might to deny it, summer has given way to autumn. Stores are full of pumpkin spice everything, and many of us are venturing back into orchards and to farms for annual fall-picking favorites like apples, squashes and, of course, pumpkins.

Heading to High Holiday services, we donate food to help our neighbors facing hunger and food insecurity. Indeed, it is a season for harvest and reflection on food scarcity.

A misshapen apple that would otherwise be wasted

A misshapen apple that would otherwise be wasted

However, there is also another challenge in our midst that doesn’t get quite as much attention: food overabundance and waste. Each year, across the US, billions of pounds of produce and food spoil or are discarded from lack of use on our farms and in our grocery stores. Billions!

During what started as an ordinary peach-picking outing three years ago, Elizabeth Bennett became aware of just how many thousands of pounds of fruit go to waste each year at local orchards in Maryland and Virginia. She realized she could make at least a small difference by finding a use for them. Bennett says, “Once I had this idea, I knew it was a calling and wasn’t going to go away.”

As a child, her mother had told her, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” So Bennett grew up with the charge to impact the world in a positive way with a strong philanthropic streak and an interest in food. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that at 16 years old, her first job was at a Ben and Jerry’s shop.

In the fall of 2014, Bennett officially launched her social enterprise Fruitcycle, which produces healthy, locally sourced snacks made from fruits that would otherwise go to waste because they are blemished, misshapen or “imperfect.” As a further extension of its “providing second chances” mission, Fruitcycle also employs women who have previously been incarcerated, experienced homelessness or are otherwise disadvantaged.

The amazing flavors and textures of the cinnamon apple chips, cinnamon-pecan granola and other snacks is made even sweeter by the satisfaction of simultaneously supporting so many amazing causes: fighting food waste, empowering women and staying true to local, intentional eating, just to name a few.

Fruitcycle's delicious cinnamon apple chips

Fruitcycle’s delicious cinnamon apple chips

Danielle Vogel of Glen’s Garden Market glowingly says of Bennett, “Elizabeth is one of those rare food entrepreneurs who has mindfully chosen mission over profits. Her dedication to empowering women is authentic and inspirational, and the result is snacks so tasty that we can barely keep them on our shelves. Her business sense is impeccable, her resilience absolute and her commitment to creating second chances for both her ingredients and her employees is extraordinary. And she also happens to be a real mensch.”

Two years later and Fruitcycle has joined forces with Together We Bake, a local nonprofit with a shared vision for empowering women. Fruitcycle is now a product line of Together We Bake and is available everywhere from Glen’s Garden Market in DC and Whole Foods Market stores to Amazon. Nearly 100 women have gone through the Together We Bake job-training program since the first class began in 2013, with graduates going on to employment opportunities at Great Harvest Bakery, Sugar Shack and more. Talk about a truly abundant harvest!

Want to get involved with this great organization? Together We Bake is recruiting members for its Development, Retail, and Growth and Vision Committees. Members will meet monthly and the time commitment will not exceed five hours per month. If you’re interested in serving on a committee or getting involved in other ways, please email Elizabeth Bennett at elizabeth@togetherwebake.org.

Top photo: Together We Bake participants make Fruitcycle apple snacks (All photos courtesy of Fruitcycle)