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Small Potatoes gleans produce for food banks

Jul 13th, 2010 | Category: Community, Food

interview by Stephanie Ashton

Although gleaning traditions are ancient, dating as far back as the times of the Old Testament, the process may need a bit of an introduction: gleaned food is the produce collected after a harvest. This leftover food – food that is often not marketable or that might otherwise go to waste – is then distributed for consumption.
Small Potatoes Gleaning Project, which has operated in Whatcom County for 10 seasons, became a project of the Bellingham Food Bank in 2009. Small Pota

Barbara Montoya gleaning squash at Broadleaf Farm in Everson. COURTESY PHOTO

toes provides an extraordinary service to 27 hunger relief agencies around Whatcom County by delivering a much needed resource: fresh produce. Max Morange, Small Potatoes’ Program Coordinator, shares more about the vital organization:

SA:  How was Small Potatoes initially formed?
MM: The idea and leadership of the project originated with founding coordinator, Rio Thomas. Rio lives in the heart of farming country in Whatcom County. During the growing season, she saw tons of food from local farms and home orchards being composted or discarded [knowing] that there were volunteers and hungry families throughout the county who would be interested in helping to harvest it for area food banks.
In 2009, Rio decided that it was time to step back from the coordination of the project, and she asked if the Bellingham Food Bank would be interested in taking over its administration. In all those years, the mission and implementation of the project really hadn’t changed, and it runs today much as it did in the first season: over the growing season, [the Bellingham Food Bank] gets calls from farmers and home gardeners who have excess fruit or vegetables they’d like to donate. Gleans are scheduled for almost every day during the growing season, and in 2010, we hope that the project will beat it’s 2009 record of 135,000 pounds of food harvested.

SA: Can you tell us a little about the places you glean?
MM: Small Potatoes gleans at farms, homes (usually those with fruit trees), and the Bellingham Farmers Market. We work with the farmer, homeowner, and market staff to ensure that hosting gleaners is a positive experience. At the end of the season, we send a receipt stating the number of pounds of food gleaned.

SA:  How have patrons of the food bank responded to the gleaned items?
MM: The response has been terrific. Food bank supplies of fresh produce are often low at the beginning of the harvest season and at its end. Even during peak summer season, when victory garden donations are at their peak, there are still few limits on the amount of fresh produce that can go to good use.  The difference between a canned vegetable item and one that’s been harvested hours before distribution is like that of night and day.  The Food Bank has had very positive feedback about the project. A number of food bank clients have also expressed interest in helping to glean produce, which is a great way for them to get connected to the hunger relief effort in a very productive way.

SA: Does the gleaned food seem to fulfill the demand for fresh produce, or do you find you have shortages?
MM: Client visits to the Bellingham Food Bank have risen by about 40 percent in the last two years alone, and the need for healthy food for distribution is greater than it’s ever been.  Gleaned produce is often some of the freshest and most nutritious that food banks offer clients—in many ways it’s no different from harvesting from one’s own garden. Most appreciated are opportunities to access food in the early and late season, although this if often more feasible from farms which focus on growing things over a longer period of time. The project can always use more opportunities.

SA: Are there gleaned items you find you get the most of? Ones you aren’t able to gather as easily?
MM: 2009 marked a fantastic year for gleaning fruit (plums, apples, pears) as well as corn and potatoes. Zucchini measures pretty high on the list as well. Other, more delicate items, such as blueberries and raspberries are a real treat for food bank clients, although they do have a slightly shorter shelf-life.
For volunteer opportunities, or to donate produce, e-mail glean@bellinghamfoodbank.org.

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