Last August, a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council stated that 40 percent of food produced in the United States goes to waste. The waste happens throughout the food chain, starting with 7 percent of fields not being harvested because of weather, lack of labor, or a low price at market.
In addition, much produce is not marketable because of slight imperfections in size or shape. This is the perfect reason for food banks to develop relationships with farmers or organizations that glean crops that might not otherwise be harvested.
The Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) works with the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network (MAGNET), which has relationships with farmers, the Society of St. Andrew, and the USDA Experimental Farm in Beltsville, Maryland. Sometimes an organization brings a load of produce to AFAC and other times volunteers go out to get it. That’s what volunteers for the Plot Against Hunger task force and AFAC did Saturday morning when they met at the USDA’s Experimental Farm to glean some winter vegetables.
Plot member Don Weber is working on natural pest control in cole crops and offered his fields for picking. The first field had bok choi, kohlrabi, and varieties of kale as well as some beautiful cabbages. We harvested the bok choi and kohlrabi, leaving the kale for another gleaning, as it will weather the cold better.
We moved on to a broccoli field, where we harvested some more. We carried boxes into the field, filled them and walked them back to the van, where they were loaded. After two hours, we had 1262 pounds of fresh produce. Of course we didn’t know that yet: it all had to be taken to AFAC’s warehouse.
The van was packed, or stuffed, with everything we could get in. Then we stopped to refresh ourselves with coffee, cocoa and fresh baked raisin scones.
We were back home a little after noon, feeling really productive. What great way to spend Saturday morning!