Planet Money

Episode 665: The Free Food Market

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. Christopher Futcher/Getty Images

Stacey Vanek Smith,Jacob Goldstein, NPR Digital Media

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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