They call it “food rescue” — collecting unwanted produce from farms and providing it to food banks and the homeless — and it’s a big success in Chelan and Douglas counties.
LEAVENWORTH — Each week, people have been walking up and down rows of greens at Oh Yeah! Farms in Leavenworth, filling baskets with kale, collards and chard.
They pull leaves from the bottom so the newer growth has a better chance.
“But we can definitely use those bottom leaves, even if they have a few holes or something in them,” said Chelsea Evans. “We walked away one week with about 125 pounds of kale.”
Evans is the gleaning coordinator for the nonprofit Upper Valley MEND’s Community Harvest Gleaning Program, which started in 2011.
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Participants collect excess and unwanted produce from farms, orchards and home gardens from Malaga to Leavenworth and donate it to local food banks.
It’s called “food rescue.”
“People are way pickier than they need to be on food, so it gets wasted,” volunteer John Ballinger, of Wenatchee, said.
This was Ballinger’s second year volunteering. He’s also donated tomatoes, beans, lettuce and herbs from his home garden.
Upper Valley MEND doles out a portion of the food collected in the Leavenworth area. The Chelan-Douglas Community Action Council distributes the rest to 13 food banks and meal programs throughout the two counties.
Chris Petry, owner of Oh Yeah! Farms, leases the land from the nearby bed and breakfast Haus Rohrbach Pension.
“A lot of times to be successful as a farmer, you have to grow too much,” he said.
“You grow an excess in case there’s failure or there’s bug problems or other problems so that you can recuperate. A lot of times to keep these plants healthy, we’ve got to glean the excess off of them. Why not, instead of putting it into compost, give it to a human?”
This is Petry’s second season donating to the Community Harvest Gleaning Program, and he said he’s glad to be part of it.
He pointed to a leaf of kale with some holes, saying he would eat it and could sell it at a discounted price if he wanted. But it’s not quite good enough for the market or a restaurant.
“It’s not completely unmarketable, it’s just not the show pony,” he said.
Upper Valley MEND contacts growers, and some also contact the organization.
The group gleans at Oh Yeah! Farms weekly. Other major partners include Gau-Sco Farm, Hope Mountain Farm, Ringsrud Orchards and DDD Orchards.
Some growers provide large donations once a year, and others provide small donations every week.
“For a lot of the farmers, it’s really painful to grow something and have it not be used,” Evans said.
The program is a winning solution for everyone
If growers can’t make a profit, they donate the food for those who need it most.
“Sometimes the produce that we bring back will be the only fresh food at a particular food bank,” Evans said.
She said gleaning typically starts in June with lettuce and other greens and ends in October with apples and squash. This year, the group has gleaned 1,000 pounds of cherries.
Last year, 58 donors contributed 39,694 pounds of produce — worth an estimated $86,933. A total of 131 volunteers put in 428 hours at 102 gleaning events.
Cali Osborne is working with the gleaning program this summer through AmeriCorps.
Osborne said she has a background in public health and wanted to get involved with it again.
“It’s all about sustainable food sources and food stability for low-income families, which is definitely a huge public-health push,” she said.
“It’s cool to be involved with it on such a hands-on level.”