Home gardens and local farm fields are beginning to fill up with fresh produce as the growing season gets underway. And with it, the Vermont Foodbank’s gleaning teams are taking to the fields to harvest surplus fresh food for people struggling to afford it.
The Vermont Foodbank operates the largest gleaning program in the state and is now exapanding to include Rutland County in addition to its gleaning efforts already taking place in Chittenden and Windham counties. In past years, the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (also known as RAFFL) operated a gleaning program in the area. When the organization closed its doors last winter, they invited the Vermont Foodbank to carry their gleaning program forward.
Gleaning is the act of harvesting excess vegetables from farm fields. Often the produce is top quality. Other times it may be irregularly shaped or has small blemishes. The Vermont Foodbank’s gleaning program works with more than 600 volunteers and 80 local farms to harvest produce that might otherwise go to waste. This type of food rescue enables the Foodbank to provide healthy, local food to people at risk of hunger.
To support these new efforts, the Vermont Foodbank hired Kimberly Williams, who will be the new gleaning and community outreach coordinator in Rutland.
“We’re thrilled to be kicking off our new gleaning program in Rutland and are looking forward to a fun and impactful harvest season” said Williams earlier this month. “This past week we harvested almost 100 pounds of lettuce at Dutchess Farm in Castleton with volunteers from Fair Haven High School. This fresh lettuce all got scooped up the next day by guests at one of our VeggieVanGo events sharing free, fresh produce at local schools and hospitals.”
This is part of a larger effort on the part of the Vermont Foodbank to ensure all Vermonters are healthy by providing access to the fresh produce they need to maintain a nutritious diet. “We know that hunger and health are inextricably related,” said Sayles. “Twenty-three percent of the households we serve throughout the state have a family member suffering from diabetes and 46 percent have a member with high blood pressure. By meeting the needs of our neighbors with fresh, nutritious foods, we can help them achieve better health, lower health care bills, and a higher quality of life.”
The Vermont Foodbank is looking for volunteers from the community to support these gleaning efforts. “We’ll be out in the fields weekly during the growing season and we’re inviting volunteers of all ages to join!” says Williams. “We encourage families, businesses and individuals to sign up to join us in the fields and make a difference for our neighbors.”
“We are honored to be able to step up to continue RAFFL’s important work of getting fresh food to our neighbors facing hunger,” said Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles. “The community here is really engaged and it is a privilege to be able to partner with Rutland community volunteers and local farms to make a difference.”
For more information visit vtfoodbank.org/gleaning.