The Gleaning Network – Gathering local crops to end hunger

 

By: Lisa Moore

Many of us will sit down to a healthy dinner tonight taking for granted that food is always readily available to us. We cannot see the faces of hunger here in Charlotte who don’t always have access to nutritious food:  kids who will go to school hungry, seniors that aren’t able to go to the store or are unable to cook, those who are struggling financially or are unemployed.

An estimated 20-25% off all food grown goes to waste. The Gleaning Network is a project of the Society of St. Andrew that coordinates volunteers, local farmers and distribution agencies to salvage food for the needy.

Gleaning is the traditional Biblical practice of gathering crops that would otherwise be left in the fields to rot or be plowed under after harvest. Because the food is unmarketable, some growers allow crews of gleaners to pick what is left after harvest to donate to those who are needy.

According to Marilyn Marks, Program Manager for Western NC and South Carolina, there are various reasons why food is left behind. “The market may have moved on a grower and he can’t pay his workers to get the food. Or food that may be too ripe by the time it gets to market may not get picked. Sometimes food is too damaged to sell, but not to eat.”

The Gleaning Network also gleans packing houses for produce that isn’t up to par size wise or won’t look good in a display. The organization donates the food it collects to various distribution agencies and usually within 48 hours, hungry Charlotteans are eating the gleaned food.

The statistics for what this organization did in North Carolina in 2007 are staggering. Well over 5 million pounds of food were distributed to 448 agencies. And 9,439 volunteers helped to create 15,668,776 servings of fresh, nutritious food for their hungry neighbors.

Marks says local producers are great to work with and are very kind to participate in the program. Gleaning is a win-win situation for both parties. “It really hurts local farmers see the food go to waste.”

Oftentimes, volunteers will take 40,000 pounds of food at a time to distribute across NC. “When we get this food, it’s more than any one agency can handle,” says Marks. Interestingly, The Gleaning Network doesn’t even have a truck or a warehouse. The money to fund the program comes strictly from churches and donations.

The program’s biggest need, Marks says, is more local farmers. If we’re going to try and feed ourselves without imports, we need to make farming more “cool,” she says. Donations for hauling and bagging are another priority as well.

And because the need to gather produce from the fields can occur on a whim, The Gleaning Network always needs volunteers. “With gleaning, we never know when it’s going to happen – whenever Spirit moves,” concludes Marks.

To learn more about The Gleaning Network visit www.endhunger.org or call 704-553-1730.

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