Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gleaning from America's farm fields to provide for food banks

A lot of produce is left to sit in the farm fields of America. The marketplace only wants perfect produce, so the fruits and vegetables that have been attacked by a few bugs or are over ripe are left to sit in the fields and are used as compost for next year. But instead of leaving the food there, many food banks have volunteer pickers who salvage the food for the needy.

From this Associated Press story that we found at the Capital Press, reporter
Raquel Maria Dillon spent some time in the fields.

The local gleaning program was started by Salvation Army staffer Maddy Graham to supplement food boxes given to needy families who too often rely on fast food and discount retailers for high-fat, high-sugar foods that can lead to health problems.

The volunteer pickers get financial assistance and a box of oranges in exchange for working once a week.

Negrete said his kids devour the oranges.

"When they're sweet like this, they're better than candy. And better for their teeth," he said in Spanish, wiping sweat from his forehead.

Elsewhere, the Society of St. Andrew, a national gleaning organization, recruits volunteers from churches, scout troops and schools to pick sweet corn in Florida, collards in South Carolina, potatoes in Colorado and apples in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

"Fresh produce is expensive and it spoils quickly," spokeswoman Carol Breitinger said. "But fresh fruits and vegetables are essential to people's diets."

The pantries of many food giveaway programs are stocked with packaged goods and caloric filler foods such as pasta because those products are cheap and easy to ship and store, she said.

Meanwhile, perfectly good produce that could balance those offerings sometimes rots in fields because of cosmetic flaws or high shipping costs.

"I can remember going into a cabbage field on the eastern shore of Virginia to pick after the harvest," Breitinger recalled. "There were thousands and thousands of pounds of perfectly good cabbage."

Gleaners step in when community-minded farmers give them the run of their fields after crews of paid pickers have already passed through, or when cosmetic damage caused by pests or weather makes harvesting and shipping the produce a money-losing proposition.

In exchange, farmers get a tax credit and the satisfaction of knowing their hard work didn't go to waste.

1 comment:

Nairobian Perspective said...

i have just joined this blogs facebook group, you are contributing to a worthy cause.Coming from Africa i feel you!