New Brunswick food banks reap the harvest of farm-fresh veggies

Thursday, November 21 2013

Posted on November 20, 2013 by HEPAC
By Sean Sullivan

Kent County volunteers support their local food banks using centuries-old tradition of ‘gleaning’

In 2013, Joanne Roy earned a nickname at food banks in Bouctouche and Richibucto: “the vegetable lady.”

Week after week, Roy, coordinator for the Kent Food Security Network, would burst through their doors with crates of fresh carrots, potatoes, beans and strawberries to donate.

The vegetables and berries, from Michaud Farm in Bouctouche Bay and Eddy Williams Farms, were “gleaned,” an ancient practice that is seeing a resurgence in North America as food security groups look to reduce food waste and help deliver fresh food to those in need.

Gleaning refers to gathering food left in a farmer’s field after harvest. Roy says the Kent Food Security Network’s volunteers collected more than seven tons of produce in 2013 — about 6,350 kilograms — that would otherwise have been composted or gone to waste.

‘When someone’s in need it doesn’t matter if it’s a small potato or a large potato: it’s a potato.’
It isn’t financially viable for farmers to hire labourers to hand-pick vegetables that are missed by mechanical harvesters, so it’s often tilled over and turned into compost for the following year. And misshapen and irregular produce, like too-narrow yellow beans or too-small potatoes, aren’t suitable for sale.

“Last year, that was all going in to the compost pile,” Roy says. “When someone’s in need it doesn’t matter if it’s a small potato or large potato, it’s a potato.”

That’s where gleaners come in. The volunteers, all referred to the program through local food banks, worked long days on the farm, picking in fields or sorting through what was leftover in the farm’s warehouse. “They were kind of like my little team of Santa’s elves,” she jokes.

The gleaned produce was split equally ways between the volunteers, the farmer and the food banks.
“I was taken aback by how many people showed up to volunteer,” Roy says, adding that the work was a huge self-esteem boost for many. “Coming from social assistance for 20 to 30 years, their self-esteem was so low that there wasn’t much they thought they could do.” One of the volunteers was even hired on by the farm, and another is prospected for next year.

Despite the onset of November, the harvesting hasn’t let up: seven truckloads of carrots are waiting in the field for volunteers to pick. Roy is already planning for next year, and hopes to spread the gleaning project — a first for New Brunswick — throughout the province.


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