Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Farm Drop Gleaning Model

One of the amazing things about my job as Gleaning Coordinator is that I get to take a good look at the incredible work that farmers, community members and other organizations are doing in our communities across Hancock County; and can imagine us shifting and nudging eachother slightly towards a viable future.

Farm Drop, an online farmer’s market based at the Wineshop in Blue Hill, will now serve as a place for gleaned farm products to be gathered and then redistributed to organizations that provide for community members who are struggling with food insecurity. People who are hard-pressed to find the source of their week’s meals often receive mainly processed food that is redistributed to food pantries from the food industry’s surplus. While our food pantries strive to provide healthy and fresh options, they are constrained by budgets and the challenges of trying to simply provide enough food to meet the community’s need. The Gleaning Initiative is working in partnership with food pantries and community meal sites in a variety of ways to increase the amount of local, healthy food that they can provide. This new partnership with Farm Drop creates a system by which local farmers can conveniently donate part of the bounty still growing in their fields after harvest to the food pantries and community meal sites in the region. Farmers go to the Wineshop each week to deliver the produce purchased by community members through Farm Drop. So in the same trip they can deliver the produce to be donated. The Gleaning Initiative then coordinates the delivery of the donated produce to the food pantries and community meal sites.

While engaging in the Gleaning Initiative may provide marketing opportunities for farmers, I have seen that the primary reason why the farmers participate is due to their strong preference for their food to be eaten and to benefit the community, rather than go to “waste.” As an additional benefit, people who receive food through the Gleaning Initiative’s food programs with local producers may, when their situations change, become long-term customers of the same farms who provided the community benefit. Healthy Acadia’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program has served 133 people in Hancock County this year, of which at least five known participants have already worked out ways to stay on as CSA customers.

Last Thursday four farms, three of which use Farm Drop for direct online sales to customers, welcomed gleaners into their homes and fields to gather food that was no longer viable for commercial purposes. Four teams were created, one for each farm, and they set out to harvest the food, ensuring that their neighbors were provided for with a week’s worth of fresh vegetables from local farms.

See the WABI TV 5 story on the launch of the Blue Hill Peninsula’s Gleaning Team last Thursday 

At King Hill Farm, four volunteer gleaners, one from the UMaine Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Program, one of the Food Insecurity Group at the St. Francis Church, a Sedgwick resident, and a volunteer from the Methodist Church in Bucksport, all came out from 10am to 12pm to King Hill Farm, agreeing to be filmed by WABI TV 5 from Bangor.

The harvest was bountiful and beautiful indeed: 35 pounds of tomatoes, 40 pounds of tomatillos, 30 punds of chard, 15 pounds of kale, 5 pounds of pea-shoots (wilted).

Blue Hill Gleaning Team with Gleaning Initiative Coordinator (second from left)
For the next 8 weeks, farmers will have direct contact with Gleaning Team Coordinators in the towns of Brooksville, Penobscot, and Blue Hill. More farms and home gardens are welcome to participate, as we will be keeping a waiting list of volunteers and matching them up with their local farms as needed.

Thank you to Farm Drop, farmers and gleaning volunteers for promoting healthy and vibrant communities, and for supporting Healthy Acadia’s food security and food sovereignty efforts.

King Hill Farm owner Amanda Provencher teaching harvesting skills

At Backstage Farm a slightly different model was used. Brownyn Clement (Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps AmeriCorps VISTA member with Healthy Acadia) was joined by an Emmaus Center employee to work from 11am to 1pm on the farm. Their time served as a credit for food that was later harvested by farmers Helena and Bill to be distributed through Farm Drop. The camera crew from WABI TV was there to get a good look at what the farmers themselves refer to as the smallest farm in Hancock County. A total of 13 punds, of carrots, 12 pounds of potatoes, 15 pounds of beets, 4 pounds of onions, 6 pounds of swiss chard.

Everything except the beets and chard were on Paula Mrozicki’s wish list for the Simmering Pot’s Monday night meal 2:30-6pm. Winter squash soup is on the menu!!!

At Clayfield Farm a serendipitous magic that seems to have been following me for the past year since approaching the topic of food waste, arrived a few minutes after me, to this beautiful little farm in East Blue Hill. This time it was meeting Tammy and Zoe. Neighbors of farmers Phil and Deborah, Tammy had been looking for a socially engaging, outdoors home-schooling activity for Zoe, and found the idea of gleaning to be the perfect thing. Ten minutes later we were selecting tomatoes from the plants Phil and Deborah were “done with”. In the end some 10 pounds of extra corn, too small or only partially developed, made it to the Wineshop the next day alongside the 40 pounds of tomatoes.

The best apple I've ever tried; a new variety called Honey Crisp. It had a dimple and therefore could not be sold as Grade A. Phil is serious about his quality standards and takes for granted that some waste is inevitable on the farm. He will also sell seconds, however he is thrilled to be sharing the bounty from his small farm through the Farm Drop distribution system.

At Four Season Farm, an employee of Tinder Hearth Bakery met the farmers at 8am to harvest 40 pounds of swiss chard, which were delivered to the Farm Drop location at the Wineshop that afternoon (thank you Bill Giordano at Valley of the Stars Farm for delivering).

Bill Giordano dropping off gleaned chard from Four Season Farm

Once the food is delivered to the central location of the Farm Drop Online Farmer's Market, meal-sites and food pantries show up to shop for the products they need that week based on other arrangements and sources of food they receive. Meanwhile boxes are put together for other organisations in Hancock County based on their storage and processing capacity. There are also systems in place to make sure food waste unfit for human consumption is fed directly to pigs. 

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