For years I’ve heard about Society of Saint Andrew and its inspiring work salvaging food crops from farmers’ fields and distributing to food pantries. Yesterday I had the opportunity to ride along and witness the beautiful simplicity of gleaning. Our mission was to harvest as many blueberries as 10 hands could possibly pick in two hours at Phantom Phoenix Farm.
After winding through country roads north of Durham for about an hour, I arrived at the berry patch near Oxford, NC where Celine Koropchak, the farmer, met me. Phantom Phoenix had a bumper crop of blueberries this year, and she generously offered the first five rows for unlimited picking to our group.
The concept of gleaning is straightforward: farmers have a surplus in their fields and volunteers harvest what’s extra and distribute to those who need it. Some crops, like squash, grow so quickly that if it doesn’t all have a market destination, or if the farm does not have enough pickers to harvest it, the vegetables will grow huge on the vine and become inedible unless an alternative home is found. Other crops, like sweet potatoes and corn, need to be a particular size for buyers, leaving bountiful leftovers that are still delicious for any eater.
The benefit for the end user is obvious. Organizations like Durham’s Urban Ministries, where I delivered 120 pounds of plump, sweet blueberries yesterday, get to offer their residents fresh local fruits and vegetables whenever SoSa pays them a visit. Elizabeth Newman, the food pantry manager at Urban Ministries, is committed to increasing fresh produce content in the meals and food boxes that they distribute, and SoSa donations are a part of that.
My question to Celine at the berry patch was: “what’s in it for farmers?”
Celine turned to her rows of bushes and said with pride: “These bushes are like my children.”
She has put time, money and great care into raising healthy and productive plants, and has no intention of seeing the berries dry up on the branch. Currently, Celine sells at the Person County Farmers Market in Roxboro and to a variety of cafeterias in the area. But on the weeks that she doesn’t have enough buyers to unload her whole crop, she’s grateful to the Society of Saint Andrews for bringing volunteer pickers to make use of her surplus.
There is another important benefits for farmers: tax credits. For the value of the donated crop, growers can receive a 10% credit on both state and federal taxes. Many farmers don’t know about this perk, and SoSa is eager to spread the word.
If you are a farmer or know farmers that are interested in having gleaners come out to your farm, you can learn more about that process here: http://www.endhunger.org/Farmers/Farmers-NC.htm
If you would like to volunteer with SoSa – I highly recommend it! It’s good, sweet fun (you may even get to sample a berry) and you’ll appreciate the immediate impact of your labor. There are locations across the country and many participating farms in North Carolina. To learn more: http://www.endhunger.org/get_involved.htm