In the USA, approximately 50% of the nation’s produce is wasted, some as “crop shrink,” food that is grown and never harvested. This happens for reasons including weather and market conditions. Whatever the case, this is nutritious food that can improve the diets of those who are food insecure. In Montgomery County, Maryland, 1 in 3 public school children receive free or reduced priced meals and 78,000 residents are food insecure.
To help feed more and waste less, Community Food Rescue (CFR), a program of Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg, the University of Maryland Extension (UME) Food Supplement Nutrition Education (FSNE) Program, and UME Montgomery County Master Gardeners (MGs) have partnered to pilot a gleaning program. Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested, or on fields where it was not economically profitable to harvest.
In 2017 Pam Hosimer of UME FSNE learned that Waters Orchard had a bumper crop of apples that would go to waste after their pick-your-own season ended. She had a better idea – gleaning and delivering the apples directly to students who are food insecure. With the support of Waters Orchard owners Susan Butler and Washington White, UME Master Gardeners were recruited to glean, and the fresh apples were delivered by CFR to several local schools.
The successful glean inspired Pam Hosimer and Susan Wexler (of CFR) to team up and organize a broader gleaning effort for the 2018 growing season. Farmers were recruited with the assistance of the Montgomery County Office of Agriculture. This season, four Montgomery County farms are participating in the pilot.
Susan coordinates dates with the farmers and recruits volunteers through the Master Gardeners email list. Community Food Rescue volunteer “food runners” deliver the produce to not-for-profit organizations and CFR assists the farmer donors in documenting the tax credit which is available in six Maryland counties. Pam arranges for the schools to have the produce washed and distributed directly to the students. This program also has yielded additional partnerships. Volunteer gleaners from the regional office of the General Services Administration and from the Montgomery County Food Council also have participated.
Most gleaning can be accomplished by anyone who would be able to enjoy a “pick-your-own” experience. The challenges are recruiting farmers and gleaners and scheduling. Farmers are not able to precisely target when their fields will be ready to be gleaned. Volunteers must be made aware that the timing of the glean may change and organizers must have a good back bench of volunteers to recruit. It is critical that the glean team be reliable and attentive to the farmer’s instructions.
The program will continue next year. We are hoping to have more farms participate and more community groups to help with the gleaning. We will be reaching out to communities of faith and their teen youth groups as well as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H, and any other teen groups (14 years old and up) seeking community service projects. To learn more, contact us!
By University of Maryland Extension Agent Associate Pam Hosimer and Community Food Rescue Outreach Coordinator Susan Wexler. Pam and Susan are UME Master Gardener Program volunteers in Montgomery County, Maryland.