July 20, 2010

Let's Glean Again, Like We Did Last Summer

Aaaand we’re gleaning again!

On Saturday, more than a dozen volunteers drove down to Parker Farms in Colonial Beach, VA. Some of our volunteers were BFC donors; others found out about the project from an NPR story about it last year; and still others learned about it from the DC Food For All. All of them were ready to roll up their sleeves and come to the rescue of the farm’s surplus sweet corn.

There was more out there than we’d expected. We gleaned just one acre out of 100s that were available to us, and left at the end with more than 1,700lbs of corn in tow. Farmer Rod Parker met us in the fields, and at the end of the day he told me, “my only complaint is that you didn’t bring enough bins.”

Why is so much corn left in the farm’s field? Here are some reasons:

1) Human error: laborers inevitably miss a certain amount of corn that is market-ready and perfect. Farmers often opt not to pay for a second pass through the fields, but are happy for volunteers to come do it.

2) Undersized/under ripe: corn that is too small to sell is left behind, even if it is edible. Shoppers are so picky that almost every type of produce has size minimums and shape requirements. Under-ripe corn is also left behind. It’s not as tasty or filling, but still edible -- and often ripened by the time we get to it.

3) Damaged: corn that has been eaten or broken. There wasn’t actually that much corn that was actually damaged, and we left it all behind too. There was way more of the good stuff to be had.

This successful trip marks the launch of the second year of Glean for the City, a project that already feels like a cherished tradition around here. Last year, we rescued 50,000 lbs. of fresh, surplus produce from farms and farmers markets, including apples, bell peppers, broccoli, and a plethora of other fruits and veggies -- an average of 2,000 lbs. of fresh produce every week! All for free, all food that otherwise would have gone to waste, but instead went to the kitchen table of the DC residents who need it the most.

The farmers love it, our volunteers love it, our clients love it, and our community was so enthusiastic about it that you all helped us win a contest on the internet, ensuring that we had enough funding to cover the cost of a full-time coordinator to manage the program. (Speaking as this year’s new coordinator, I want to say thank you!)

You’ll be really excited by what we have in store this year. First of all, we’ve extended the gleaning season by one month, and connected with new farm partners to bring in more quantity and a healthier variety. We aim to bring in 3,000 lbs per week this time. And we’re even partnering with other local food pantries to run coordinated gleanings and share the bounty!

In fact, I hope to someday honor our Food Pantry Director Ted Pringle’s goal of ultimately replacing all canned vegetables in our pantry with farm-fresh produce.

If you’re interested in volunteering, or if your community group or organization might want to partner with us, please email me. In the meantime, if you'd like to support this work, you can help us cover the cost of transportation and other things like bins, bags, gloves, and so on, by making a donation to Glean for the City today.

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