Gleaning (Food Rescue)

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A misty morning on Alleged Farm spent harvesting surplus kale.

Gleaning is harvesting produce left over in fields and gardens after the main harvest. For centuries, “field gleaning” has been a vital source of food for people in poverty. Gleaning programs are becoming more popular ways to provide local, healthy produce to food banks around the country.

For Comfort Food Community, gleaning always seemed like a logical extension of the work that we do at the Pantry since our area is blessed with so many great farms.  Whether they sell their produce at Farm Stands, through CSA shares, at Farmers’ Markets or to Wholesalers, the farms in our area produce some of the highest quality produce in all of New York state. While they’re primary objective is to grow food for their customers, there is an incentive to over-plant by a certain margin so that you have a buffer against the vagaries of mother nature – flood, drought, pests, disease – or additional product to be able to sell to a yet to be identified market. And, without fail, certain crops end up being particularly productive because of the conditions during the growing season, which means farmers end up with a bumper crop that goes way beyond their commercial needs.

The Health Gap
Since our inception in 2014, Comfort Food Community set out to leverage our community’s resources to meet our community’s needs. We recognized from the very beginning that our farms and food economy are one of our community’s greatest resources and, as we began to have conversations with our Pantry guests, we recognized that one of their greatest needs is access to healthy foods.

For many low-income families, fresh food is one of the first sacrifices that is made when trying to juggle their financial commitments on limited budgets. It leaves many families to “shop the center” of a grocery store – to stretch their dollars with cheaper, processed foods that are quick and convenient to make and that they know their kids will like – while fresh foods on the perimeter of grocery stores remain out of reach.

This has obvious consequences: a diet that lacks fresh, healthy food is a diet that generally leads to disease. The CDC identifies a lack of access to fresh, healthful foods as one of the major contributing factors to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and many cancersAnd, as Health.gov notes, there are tremendous economic consequences to these purchasing patterns: “High rates of overweight and obesity and chronic disease have persisted for more than two decades and come not only with increased health risks, but also at high cost. In 2008, the medical costs associated with obesity were estimated to be $147 billion. In 2012, the total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes was $245 billion, including $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in decreased productivity.

Enter the Glean Team

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Comfort Food Community, in partnership with Agricultural Stewardship Association, decided to do something to bridge this gap between surplus food on farms and low-income families that lacked access to healthy food. In 2014, we created the Glean Team – a team of volunteers that travel to our partner farms to harvest surplus food so that its available to Emergency Feeding Programs.  In recent years, we have also partnered with Capital Roots and their Squash Hunger program.  Each organization recruits volunteers for gleaning opportunities and, at the end of the harvest, Comfort Food and Capital Roots sort out how much of each crop they can store and distribute – divvying up the abundance to reach low-income families in Washington County and, through the Squash Hunger network, the entire Capital District.

Between Comfort Food Community’s two pantries and the Fresh Food Pantry program, Comfort Food Community collected and distributed 17,308 lbs of farm fresh produce in 2016.

From July to November, we identify partners farms that have excess produce available and coordinate gleanings there. “Pre-scheduled” gleanings are held on Thursdays during the growing season. They generally start at 9 a.m. and can run until Noon depending on how many farms we visit and how much food they have available to glean. Farms will also often have produce become available that won’t make it until Thursday, in which case we put out a call for volunteers on an “Ad Hoc” basis.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Glean Team, e-mail Devin Bulger at devin@comfortfoodcommunity.org.  That will get you added to the e-mail list for specific information regarding gleaning opportunities.

Also, check out our“Get Ready to Glean” guide for more information about what to expect and to find out about kids being involved in gleaning.

 

The Fresh Food Pipeline – Our Partner Farms

5,000 + lbs donated
Windflower Farm
2,000 – 5,000 lbs donated
Alleged Farm
Crandalls Corner Farm
Saratoga Apple
Slack Hollow Farm
Up to 2,000 lbs donated
Hand Melon Farm
Moses Farm
Scotch Hill Farm
Tiashoke Farm

 

 

Benefits to Farms

  • Save time and money – let volunteers deal with crops that are no longer marketable – paid staff can spend its time on profitable crops and activities
  • Volunteer gleaners can provide that “maintenance” harvest that means when farmers are picking for market, they don’t have to sort through rotten or overgrown crops – beans, berries, squash, etc.  This saves farmers time and headache when they are going through to harvest and allows the plant to spend its energy on viable crops.
  • Get people on the farm to see your operation and get them excited about local food. Probably the most effective way for local growers to differentiate their product is to highlight the relationship that they have to a local community.
  • Reduce waste – at some emotional level it’s just sad to see gorgeous food rotting on the vine or getting plowed under. Too much work went into getting it to grow in the first place and it had so much more potential.
  • Support those in need – a lot of times fresh, healthy foods are the first things to go in struggling family’s budgets. Your donation brings these foods back into peoples’ lives.
  • Earn a tax credit. The Farm to Food Bank bill has finally passed the NYS budget process. Farms are eligible for up to $5,000 in tax credits for donations to charities.