As I wrote about last month, as gardeners are preparing for their spring gardens, they might want to think about planting an extra row of produce to help those in need.
But for those people who do not garden or do not live in a climate that allows year-round gardening, there are alternative ways to help bring fresh produce to the hungry. And, the need has never been higher, with a recent story in the New York Times indicating that, “nearly one in five Americans said they lacked the money to buy the food they needed at some point in the last year.”
One way to help is to volunteer with organizations that donate fresh produce by gleaning excess or unwanted produce. Traditionally, gleaning is collecting “leftover” crops from farmers’ fields after they have already been harvested. After harvest, there is an abundance of high quality, marketable produce left in the fields that cannot be harvested economically or does not meet commercial standards.
As the need has increased, so has the number of nationwide groups conducting organized fruit harvests, or fruit gleanings in large cities.
Aside from these gleaning groups in urban areas, there are also quite a few groups and organizations located in more traditional, rural agricultural areas organized by both farmers’ organizations and other nonprofits all across the country.
While it is still the dead of winter, hunger knows no season. Wherever there is food growing, there is a need for gleaners, although the need varies by region, climate, and crop production. The number of large gleaning projects might go down during this time of year in some areas, but will pick up once the spring comes.
However, even during this very cold weather season, some groups are still conducting regular organized picks. One of these is South Carolina’s Fields to Families. They have been gleaning during the recent frosts and torrential storms in their area, and have even blogged about it. In 2009, Fields to Families distributed 80,390 pounds (65,000 meals) of fresh produce to those in need.
Another cold climate group is the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network based in Virginia. This nonprofit organization gleans in the National Capital region, and, annually provides over three million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to hungry people in their area.
On the West Coast, Harvest Against Hunger based in Seattle, Washington uses volunteers to glean vegetables, tree fruit and other produce from both local farms and gardens. The organization is affiliated with Rotary First Harvest and conducts monthly work parties in different parts of the state.
One of the oldest gleaning groups around is California based Ag Against Hunger. This nonprofit organization was created by local farmers, the farm bureau and the local food bank. It provides fresh donated produce to food banks in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties as well as the rest of California and the West Coast. Since 1990, area growers and shippers have donated over 160 million pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables to help feed the hungry. In 2009, it’s volunteers harvested over 143,000 pounds of produce that would have otherwise been disked underground.