Food recovery program looking for farms and volunteers to help rescue unwanted produce for those in need
photo by: Douglas County contribued photo
The Lawrence-Douglas County Sustainability Office is looking for farmers to participate in a program that will harvest or collect a farm’s unsellable produce and donate it to people in need.
The sustainability office has partnered with Kansas City, Mo.-based After the Harvest, a produce rescue nonprofit, and the Community Organized Gleaners, a grassroots volunteer group of farmers, to expand food recovery on Douglas County farms, according to a county news release. The fruits and vegetables rescued, or gleaned, from farm fields will distribute them to the local food pantry and other social service agencies.
The county received a grant to support and expand the gleaning program, which is looking for additional farms and volunteers to participate. Lawrence-Douglas County Sustainability Food Waste Reduction Specialist Jamie Hofling said there is quite a bit of produce that can be left in the field for different reasons, such as potatoes that were nicked with a shovel while being dug up, produce that has been damaged by insects, or misshapen produce that grocery stores will not accept.
“There is a lot of food that could be rescued that is otherwise ending up composted or left in the field that could be eaten,” Hofling said.
For example, Hofling said that volunteers were recently able to rescue 40 pounds of organic spinach that had been invaded by small insects called aphids, which do not render the plants inedible but do need to be washed off. She said as part of the program, volunteers will come do the harvesting and washing themselves, or can pick up unsellable produce that has already been collected from farms or farmers markets.
photo by: Douglas County contributed photo
The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Douglas County a two-year Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction grant in fall 2020 to work on food resource recovery, according to the release. Douglas County is one of only 13 communities in the country to receive the grant, which also enabled the county to hire Hofling.
Currently, Hofling said that two area farms, Moon on the Meadow and Juniper Hills, have committed to joining the program, and a couple more have expressed interest. She said After the Harvest is going to be hiring a crew leader to work in Lawrence, and the program has the capacity to do about three gleanings per week or about 10 farms per month. The program is open to working with very small or large farms, and is also looking for volunteers to help with the gleanings.
“We just really want to work with farmers as best we can, to make it easy for them to participate,” Hofling said.
Jill Elmers, owner of Moon on the Meadow farm, said in the release she was excited to be a partner in the project, as it helps the farm work towards its goal of providing everyone with fresh and local produce.
“Working with the volunteers and seeing what they can pick and gather from fields ready to be turned under is truly amazing and inspiring,” Elmers said.
Hofling said the produce gathered through the program will be provided to the local food pantry Just Food, the community meal and pantry program at the Sunrise Project, and the Lawrence Community Shelter. She said the coronavirus pandemic has left a lot more people in need, and that Just Food leaders have said that families come looking for fresh produce, as opposed to canned goods. In addition to helping meet that need, she said the program works toward the goal in the county’s Food System Plan to recover food and reduce food waste.
The release states that the goal is for After the Harvest to take over the program in September 2022 when the grant ends and to continue to provide Douglas County agencies with locally-gleaned produce through a Lawrence-based satellite expansion. Volunteers interested in helping in gleanings, either as an individual or group, can sign up on at dgcoks.org/foodrecoveryvolunteer. Farms interested in the program can contact Hofling at email@example.com.