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Donating Surplus Crops CanHelp Needy PDF Print E-mail
Written by DEANFOSDICK For The Associated Press   
Thursday, 16 December 2010 05:47

For many gardeners, charity begins at home with contributions of fresh produce to local food banks.

Other people volunteer as gleaners in farm fields and orchards, salvaging unused crops that might get plowed under, dumped or left to rot.

Gleaning is one of the earliest forms of charity, mentioned frequently in Biblical accounts as the gathering of unharvested crops purposely left in the corners of farm fields for anyone needing it.

Times again are tough for thousands of families who can't afford a steady diet of fresh, wholesome fruits and vegetables. Yet an estimated 27 percent of all food crops go un-harvested in the United States - some 97 billion pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.Most are discarded because of cosmetic blemishes, harvesting problems or unstablemarket prices.

Enter such organizations as the Society of St. Andrew, Ample Harvest, Hidden Harvest, Maine Harvest for theHungry Program, Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network, Senior Gleaners andmany others that make it their business to find, collect and distribute produce for hungry consumers, from the elderly to schoolchildren.

"It used to be that gleaning was simply tolerated, that it was legal to do but had some sort of stigma attached," said Barbara Murphy, an extension educator with the University of Maine who also oversees itsMaineHarvest for the Hungry Program. "But gleaning is becoming more popular because the sheer quantity of the bounty that doesn't get used is immense. Now it's a matter of reducing waste."

American consumers are picky, refusing to buy misshapen potatoes, discolored cauliflower or peppers with sunspots, said Christy Porter, founder and executive director of Hidden Harvest Inc., a produce recovery program in Coachella, Calif.

"We got the entire corn crop from one commercial grower recently because the earswere too small tomarket," she said.

Fluctuating commodity prices also result in large contributions, Porter said.

"Farmers pay for the seed, pay to water it and then the market falls out. That leaves them with 40 acres planted in one field and 80 acres in another," she said. "The grower wants to plow it under and move on. Part of our job is to get in there quick and get it up so the farmer can get his field back and the stuff doesn't bake in the sun."

A recent trend of landscaping with citrus trees has opened new opportunities for a free and nutritious fruit supply in that region.

"There are literally millions of citrus trees around here that are allowed to go bad," Porter said. "Some resorts are paying $20,000 to $25,000 a year to throw away a lot of the unused fruit. We were able to pick up a half-million pounds of citrus."

Packinghouses and cold storage facilities often are good sources for surplus fresh food.

"We can get more from a tractor- trailer truck at one time than we can fromhaving people out in the field picking produce," said Kristy Nash, director of the Carolinas at the Society of St. Andrew in Durham, N.C.

Donations of any kind are readily accepted, but fresh produce often is more valuable than cash to food banks, Nash said.

"It helps restore health, helps kids do better in school and getting people to cook it in their homes to improve their overall diets is important in the fight against obesity," she said.

Gardeners wishing to contribute are advised to plan ahead.

"Dedicate a rowof vegetables or fruit from some trees well in advance," saidMaine Extension's Murphy. "Contact whomever you plan to donate to. They can even come and help pick it."

You can contact Dean Fosdick at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it