In late June, the Co-op Distribution Center learned that the Nichols Ranch and Orchard, near La Luz, NM, had extra produce. The fruit was ready to harvest, but Nichols Ranch owners knew they did not have the labor force to pick or the market to sell the entire crop. Rather than let the cherries and apricots spoil, they opened their orchard to volunteers from the USDA Forest Service Albuquerque Service Center and the Lincoln National Forest to glean produce for hunger relief.
La Montañita Coop, Roadrunner Food Bank and volunteers for the Feds Feed Families food drive joined forces to hold the first gleaning event of the summer season, collecting 1,000 pounds of fresh cherries and apricots for Roadrunner to distribute to New Mexico families threatened by food insecurity. Roadrunner Food Bank will distribute it through its network of partners including food pantries, soup kitchens and other meal programs.
Gleaning programs can make a difference by bringing volunteers out to harvest excess fruits and vegetables on local farms, neighborhood gardens and other venues to benefit hunger-relief organizations.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are important elements of a balanced diet for children, adults and seniors. Too often, families at risk for hunger cannot afford to buy produce, and experts say that vulnerable populations are often in poorer health and likely to experience diabetes, obesity and other health issues when they don’t have access to nutritious food.
Michelle Franklin, Director of the Co-op Distribution Center said, “Being able to connect local farmers to organizations supplying important sources of food to hungry people has been a remarkable experience for us. If food products aren’t able to make it to a local market for whatever reason, gleaning programs like this can help hunger-relief organizations make nutritious food available to vulnerable people.”
Jennifer McDowell, USDA Forest Service champion for the Feds Feed Families food drive, said, “Feds Feed Families gives federal employees an opportunity to show their commitment and compassion to their local communities by donating non-perishable food items. By volunteering our time to glean produce from local fields and orchards, we have the added opportunity to redirect fresh food that would otherwise go to waste to the people who need it the most.”
Roadrunner Food Bank distributed more than 10 million pounds of produce last year. Roadrunner Chief Operating Officer Teresa Johansen said, “One of our roles is to provide as much nutritious food as possible. Working with local farmers and volunteers like the folks from the Forest Service gives us a new way to source and obtain healthy fresh foods. Our goal is to maintain a consistent supply of produce through gleaning and other food rescue activities throughout the year.”