From October 7th-16th, a collaborative of farm surplus rescue efforts will gather crops from Maine's fields, engaging communities in resourceful and equitable food system activities.
Gleaning Maine Farms
Gleaning is the act of rescuing food from fields. Operationally, when a crop’s commercial value decreases below the potential operational costs of harvest-to-market, farmers must make a decision: use it to provision the farm, feed it to animals, host a community glean, call a professionalized food rescue program, or till it into the soil. The value of any moment of loss - not utilizing a certain percentage of any given crop before it falls below its edible quality standards in the field - is perceived differently by each farmer given the applicable opportunity costs and the impact on its operations. It could be about availability or cost of labor, input of resources needed, infrastructure capacity, distance and timing to market, volume and price points, or quality and marketing concerns. The point is, it is not a decision that is made lightly, and there is not a wasteful practice to correct, only a market volatility problem and a lack of commitment downstream, and possibly not enough food recovery efforts supporting farmers with a responsive, flexible, resourceful and equitable food system. It is culture and community, as well as strategically placed funding that can help solve food loss on farms.
However, from a food recovery perspective there is always a possible quality-for-market combination that could result in either a food donation, incentivized by $1.70/lb in tax-deductions, or a revenue generating possibility within social or food recovery markets. Food bank programs, such as Mainers Feeding Mainers (Good Shepherd Food Bank) provide credit grants to farms to serve produce to food pantries, and online platforms, such as Spoiler Alert (www.spoileralert.com) can help farmers sell surplus to markets they might not otherwise connect with. When food donations are the best option, but labor is the deciding factor keeping the food from being harvested, professionalized volunteer gleaning efforts can bring communities in as important players in building a resourceful and equitable food system that supports living economies for all.
If presented with the opportunity to have community members engaging in farm activities, as another way for people to become champions of the local food movement, most farmers accept gleaning as worthwhile investment in the future of healthy community food systems. It is then the community's responsibility to remember the farmers that supported them, and make donations of labor, money and love back to these farms, especially in times of such environmental, political and social unrest. Gleaning groups in Maine, responding to the growing awareness of fresh produce being available from local farms, have collaboratively organized under the Maine Gleaning Network, to develop best practices for on-farm gleaning and address community food security needs Statewide.
The Maine Gleaning Network
Since 2015, the Maine Gleaning Network, a project emerging from Healthy Acadia’s Gleaning Initiative in Hancock County, has supported 8 other gleaning programs to become active around the State of Maine, as well as collaborated with existing UMaine Cooperative Extension gleaning efforts.
In October 2016, supported by Feedback and the Food Recovery Coalition partners (NRCM, Healthy Acadia, and Cumberland County Food Security Council) as well as 30 other non-profits and businesses, the Maine Gleaning Network participated in the Feeding the 5000 Portland, ME event, gleaning 4174 pounds of produce, 13 different crops from 17 Maine farms, in three days. This food was then cooked into 4,392 bowls of stew (See Feeding the 5000 video here). Later that Fall, the Maine Gleaning Network mobilized dozens of volunteers to harvest over 10,000lbs of potatoes from Pineland Farms, that would have otherwise gotten tilled under.
In 2017, we have held 15 online technical assistance webinars and one in-person workshop, covering topics such as best on-farm practices, volunteer recruitment, food-tech software support, and fresh produce distribution systems. We have hosted guest speakers from national organizations such as Food Rescue US, Center for Eco-Technology, EPA, DEP, Salvation Farms, Boston Area Gleaners, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s Office, complemented by peer-to-peer learning sessions every other month.
First Annual Maine Gleaning Week 2017 / Oct.7th-Oct.16th
Supported by Quimby Foundation, the Maine Gleaning Network is organizing the First Annual Maine Gleaning Week 2017 in partnership with Good Shepherd Food Bank, UMaine Cooperative Extension, Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Food Recovery Coalition. From October 7th-16th a collaborative of farm surplus rescue efforts - Hancock County Gleaners, Washington County Gleaners, Merrymeeting Gleaners, Central Maine Area Gleaners, Unity Food Hub Gleaners, Lincoln County Gleaners, Cumberland County Gleaning Initiative, Healthy Communities of the Capital Area - will gather crops from Maine's fields, and bring communities together to participate in resourceful and equitable food system activities. A final celebration will be held at the Portland Public Library on October 16th from 4-5:30, featuring a keynote address from Kristen Miale, President Good Shepherd Food Bank, and Steven M. Finn, University of Pennsylvania, LeanPath. This will be followed by a Panel Discussion of Maine Gleaning Network partners and members, Refreshments by Food Recovery Coalition and UMaine Master Preservers, and a showing of WASTED: The Story of Food Waste at 5:30pm (1h25min).
For a full list of events visit us at www.mainegleaningnetwork.org/events