Un-Harvested Food Is Not Waste

NORTHEAST KINGDOM-"Gleaning is the practice that people go onto farms and harvest foods that for whatever reason is not harvested by the farmer," Outreach Coordinator, Shannon Choquette explained. As Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District Partners up with Salvation Farms to start developing the NEK Gleaning Program.

The Waste Management District does not view this un-harvested food as waste. They want to deliver it to local organizations that need it in the NEK. "We really recognize the need to support programs in our community. Programs that focus on the highest level of food recovery, which says food should be fed to people, for compost, for livestock," Choquette explained.

Most farmers plant over forty percent more produce than they expect to harvest. In the Northeast Kingdom, there have been studies conducted by the Gleaning organization Salvation Farms. They serve the Lamoille Region, they found an estimated 1.2 million pounds of produce is left unharvested in the Northeast Kingdom every year.

The NEK Waste Management District needed an experienced partner to be able to solve this problem with them. Working closely with Salvation Farms Executive Director, Theresa Snow to help the district move the project along. "Maybe the unharvested foods needed to be brought to a food shelf. Maybe it's not good looking so it needs to be chopped up and frozen. There are a few things that need to happen before we put this material out there. But we know it's out there, and we know that food insecurity is a big issue," Choquette stated.

Theresa Snow is a big advocate for gleaning programs, as she is a part of her own program in Lamoille County. "The Northeast Kingdom is one of those areas that doesn't have a gleaning program. So it is a particular interest to us to see how we can help a gleaning program get established," Snow explained.

Salvation Farms has been serving some senior meal programs in the NEK, and they recognizes that there is a need for a gleaning program in the area. Many food programs need fresh produce, not just meat, and canned goods. "Now it is just a matter of seeing if we can get some capacity, and to assess what farms are in the region," Snow said. Once they locate those farms, they can find ways to connect those farms with organizations that need produce.

The Waste Management District was awarded USDA funding to hire a consultant to help them with the project as well. The group conducted interviews with people in the community, farmers, food shelves, and retailers. Finding there is an opportunity to establish a gleaning program in the NEK.

Salvation Farms role in this project will be to assist with technical assistance. Being the guiding organization to be able to achieve the district's goals. "It will hopefully be a program that will not only get food to where people can access that food. But also break down some educational barriers," Choquette explained.

The Waste Management District has received a AmeriCorps VISTA to help move the project along. "While we have been talking about this for years, none of us felt like we had the ability to begin some kind of program like this. That's exactly the point of the VISTA, they are meant to go and do a term of service in impoverished communities," Choquette states.

The district is now working on collecting applications for that VISTA. "We have a lot of local models to work with, and a lot of people we hope will be resources for this VISTA," Choquette explained. Snow is currently in the process of applying for a USDA grant called the Community Food Project Grant. The grant funding might take about four months to come through for the district. This grant is going to help push the project forward in the NEK.

"So at this point we are looking dynamically on how in the Northeast we use federal dollars to use more of what our farms produce to meet more of the regions food needs," Snow explained with enthusiasm.