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Rolling Harvest Food Rescue gleans farm fields to help needy

Volunteers harvest, clean, pack and transport fresh produce that might otherwise go to waste, and gives it to needy families.
By Gwen Shrift, The Intelligencer, July 16, 2016

Thousands of scallions rooted in Bucks County soil very nearly got plowed under this week before ever seeing the inside of a salad bowl.

So did two and a half tons of kale, spinach and arugula, a haul that also included thousands of servings of broccoli, collards, cabbage, green squash, yellow squash and beets.

All the above was salvaged by volunteers working with Rolling Harvest Food Rescue of New Hope. Often, the food was in the hands of families with little access to fresh vegetables within hours of being pulled from the ground.

intelligencer2Teenagers spending a week at Deer Park Camp in Solebury Township spent a wringing-wet, humid morning picking scallions and collards at Tinicum CSA in Upper Black Eddy. It is one of numerous gleanings of fresh produce coordinated by Rolling Harvest at farms in the area.

“It would have been tilled into the ground, which is not a total loss, because the nutrients get recycled into the soil,” said CSA co-owner John Crooke. “It is a shame to till into the soil things that are perfectly good to eat. Anyone, including myself, would want to eat what we’ve gleaned today.”intelligencer3

The two and a half tons of other vegetables came from some of the 35 farms in the area that donate fresh produce to 60 food pantries in Bucks County and nearby towns in New Jersey. Rolling Harvest collected food from the farms for a weekly distribution, setting it out at a site in Bensalem.

Operators of food pantries, who often have nothing fresh to offer their clients, cleared out the supply in about half an hour, according to Jamie McKnight, program and development director at Rolling Harvest.

“We moved 5,000 pounds of food. To see it moving that quickly shows a need beyond what people think in Bucks County,” she said.

Getting fresh vegetables is still a problem for the hungry, but through efforts of organizers, volunteers, social service agencies and farmers, an increasing percentage of food pantry clients said they were able to find them.

intelligencer4More than 72 percent of respondents to the 2015 Biennial Hunger Nutrition Survey conducted by the Hunger Nutrition Coalition of Bucks County said they go without fresh vegetables due to their cost. At the same time, 58.7 percent said that when they did get them, they did so at a pantry, versus 50 percent who got them at pantries as of the previous survey in 2013.

According to the report, “This is significant because efforts have been made in Bucks County over the last several years to make produce available at food pantries and this indicates that progress is being made.”

Food rescue techniques such as gleaning help feed the hungry by taking advantage of agricultural bounty. Farmers often sow more than they think they will need, to make sure they have enough market-quality produce.

Around the country, much of that fails to avoid the fate of Tinicum CSA’s scallions, and gets plowed under or dumped. According to the USDA, 30 to 40 percent of the food supply is wasted. The agency also says wasted food “is the single largest component going into municipal landfills.”

intelligencer5Rolling Harvest battles this by addressing logistics. With vehicles and volunteers on hand, “We can invite people (pantry operators) to our distributions, we can deliver directly if they can’t get there,” said Cathy Snyder, the program’s founder. “Between farmers and food pantries, we’re very nimble and able to respond quickly, and I think that’s the recipe.”

At Tinicum CSA, teenagers spending a week at the Community of Christ Church’s Deer Park Camp picked surplus collards and scallions. As a group washed dirt from the long, aromatic stalks, Snyder looked on. “This is fresher than anything you’d get from a supermarket, ’cause it’s just been picked,” she said.

Other campers helped weed a field of cantaloupes. “It’s great having all these hands, because the weeds got a little ahead of us,” said Crooke. Farm work is laborious, so Rolling Harvest volunteers do what they can to help in the fields.

“Anything we can do to help them manage the work that they do means (a) better relationship, and more donations that we’ll get,” said Snyder.

intelligencer6As for the camper-volunteers, their work is part of Deer Park’s efforts to help various organizations around the county this summer to “be a part of making the world a better place,” said Alyshia Newhart as she helped wash scallions.

In the end, Rolling Harvest rolled away with crates of scallions, huge bags of collards and some yellow squash donated by the farm. They were destined to be part of a giveaway at a YWCA Bucks County Lunch and Library summer program the next day.

“A hundred and twenty-five kids at four different sites will have bags full of vegetables, including today’s collards and some scallions, and they’ll take them home to their families as well, with recipes in English and Spanish, low-cost, really healthy recipes designed by one of our members,” said Snyder.

“We can make sure food doesn’t go to waste,” said Crooke. Between the work of Rolling Harvest, and a “commission” to grow cabbage for food pantries through the Bucks Knocks Out Hunger campaign, “We feel confident that the food is going to places that it needs to go.”