October 23, 2009

Stalking Broccoli

As the harvest season winds down, Bread for the City's Glean for the City program is reaching its final stretch, and it's been a great success. Altogether, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, we've brought in roughly 35,000 pounds of fresh produce. And now we're in the lead for a major grant from Tom's of Maine in their 50 States for Good contest! Please vote for us now (shortcut: click Ctrl-F and type 'bread' to find us) and make yourself a note to vote each day between now and October 31st!

During this last stretch, we will be gleaning broccoli from Parker Farms. We started off the season gleaning 5,000 lbs. of sweet corn there, and Rod Parker is generously allowing us to return for the brocc. Over the coming months, we expect to harvest several tons of broccoli for our pantry -- all from just this one farm.

(We were going to do a big glean in tandem with the launch of the DC Food For All, but we got rained out! There will be more opportunities for Glean for the City to collaborate with the DC Food For All, I'm sure.)

Broccoli will be a new and challenging harvest for us. Apple picking, for instance, is as easy as it is fun. When we picked up cucumbers, they'd already been harvested and sorted and were just waiting for our truck. Broccoli, on the other hand, will have to be removed from its stalk, right out of the ground.

This is a relatively labor intensive harvest. You need a knife to strip the leaves and cut the stalk. Large leaves protrude from the sides of the stalk and cover the edible heads of broccoli -- which means it's easy to miss.

There's also a lot that deliberately gets left behind: the farmers pay harvesters to make just one pass through the field. In that pass, they look for the best pieces. Variations in soil and sunlight cause some plants to reach maturity later, and a lot of broccoli gets left behind because it's insufficiently ripe.

It's a sad reality of today's market that stores will only accept broccoli of a certain size, because they cater to shoppers' picky demand for full crops. In the meantime, farms can’t afford to take another pass when the broccoli reaches maturity. Most of these plants reach the perfect size days later -- but they are left to rot in the field. Unless of course Glean for the City is on the scene.

Thanks to all the volunteers, farmers and market managers who've made Glean for the City such a success so far. Check out this great recent New York Times article about a sophisticated gleaning network in California - I think we could get to that level very soon!

And last but not least, please vote for us in the Tom's of Maine contest. With your help, we'll ensure that all the food that's fit to eat gets to the people who need it.

1 comment:

My Chef Regina said...

Are you looking for volunteers for the broccoli harvest? What day(s) do you plan to go?