Friday, March 30, 2012

Don't Let Good Fruit Go Bad

One of the first major projects I started working on in my VISTA year was to implement a "gleaning" program for Del Norte County.  My supervisor, Angela Glore, had had the idea for the program since before I started with Community Assistance Network, and she put me to work straight away getting started on it.  "Gleaning" is a term that orginated long ago in history, and dates back to at least biblical times; it refers to collecting extra food that would otherwise go to waste and giving it to the poor.  Large landowners and farmers would let peasants go through their fields after a large harvest and they were allowed to keep the extra produce that wasn't harvested.  Modern gleaning programs take that same basic idea and apply it to communities; volunteer harvesters go and collect extra produce from local farms, public spaces, and even peoples' backyards, and take the gleaned food to local food banks.

Our program, the Del Norte Community Gleaning Project, really took off last season.  We contacted 4H and got their Citizenship Group involved with the project; the Citizenship Group is a group of high schoolers who take on community service projects each year.  They go down to the California 4H convention in Sacramento every spring to present their ideas for projects, and when they presented the gleaning project, they won 1st place for their presentation, competing against 4H clubs from all over California.  Throughout the summer, the 4H kids and I collected produce from all over the county, primarily receiving extras from the harvests at Ocean Air Farms.  We also collected from Crescent City's Farmer's Market each Saturday, and the 4H kids even went and collected apples from backyard orchards which were then pressed and served as apple sauce at the Farmer's Market.  In total, from May through November, we were able to collect 4144 lbs. of produce.  All of that food was distributed through CAN's food bank, to the people who need it most.

Gleaning programs exist all over the country, but our program was most directly inspired by Food For People, the network of food banks in Humboldt County.  Food For People has a well established gleaning program that primarily gleans from the multitude of small organic farms around Humboldt.  Each year, they take in thousands of pounds of food that is distributed through their food banks.  When we were first getting our program off the ground, we talked a lot with Jason Whitley, who heads up FFP's gleaning, who gave a lot of advice and assistance to us as we were starting.  Just a few weeks ago, Angela, VISTA Laura, and I took a work trip down to Humboldt and happened to run into Jason at Cafe Brio in Arcata.  As luck would have it, he was about to head out to Eddie Tanner's Deep Seeded Farm to do a gleaning pickup, and we had a couple hours to kill.  We went out to Eddie's farm and spent the next two hours harvesting beets, kale, cauliflower,  and spinach.  We didn't get a final weight from Jason, but we harvested a van full and all of it got sent off to be distributed at the food bank.

The Community Gleaning Project will be collecting produce again this year.  We'll be at each Farmer's Market and we encourage anyone who might have extra produce to call us any time and we will come out and harvest it for you.  We're also always looking for extra volunteers to come out and help collect.  If you are interested in getting involved in any way, contact me at or (707) 464-9190.  Also, check us out on Facebook: "Del Norte Community Gleaning Project."  And follow us on Twitter @GleanDelNorte.

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