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Episode 665: The Free Food Market

Christopher Futcher
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Note: This episode originally ran in2015.

When Susannah Morgan was running a food bank in Alaska, she always needed produce. Items like fresh oranges or potatoes. But her food bank didn't get much. Feeding America, a major supplier for food banks, assumed transporting fresh produce would be too expensive. Instead, among other things, Susannah's food bank got pickles. A lot of them. At the same time, Feeding America was flooding Idaho with potatoes.

A new CEO at Feeding America thought there had to be another way, and started holding focus groups with local food banks and economists. It was at one of those meetings that University of Chicago economist Canice Prendergast had an idea: Create a free market for food banks. A little economy built just for them. With its own money and everything.

On today's show: The bold experiment in capitalism that brought together an economist, hundreds of food bank directors from around the country, and, just to spice things up, a socialist.

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Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.
Jacob Goldstein is an NPR correspondent and co-host of the Planet Money podcast. He is the author of the book Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing.