It all began with a simple concept: ensuring that individuals facing food insecurity get the healthy produce they need for a nutritious diet and that local produce would not go to waste. This goal prompted Rolling Harvest Food Rescue’s founder and executive director, Cathy Snyder, to initiate the innovative organization back in 2010.
As a volunteer at the local food pantry in the New Hope/Lambertville area, Cathy knew the need for food donations, but wanted to take it one step further by ensuring that local fresh, healthy produce was a part of the equation.
“I started asking farmers at the New Hope Farmers Market if they had anything to share and what would work for them,” said Cathy.
She inquired so much, in fact, that one farm finally said that it felt bad it couldn’t give away all of its produce, which had to be sold for profit at other farmers’ markets, but that Cathy could come to the farm, where there may be some items for the taking.
This led to an idea to make use of area farmers’ extra produce, since most farmers plant 20% more than what they anticipate selling. Cathy also began taking produce that may not be 100% aesthetically pleasing but was still fresh and in perfectly edible condition.
It was this type of initial request made upon farmers that set the process, and Rolling Harvest Food Rescue, into motion. Farmers would later contact Cathy directly, asking for volunteers to come to the farms and engage in gleaning efforts. Today in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and in Hunterdon and Mercer Counties in New Jersey, approximately 35 farms contribute produce to 60 local hunger relief sites.
The hunger relief sites that are beneficiaries come in a number of different forms, including food pantries, community meal sites, domestic violence shelters and other facilities where food insecure individuals may be located. The organizations in Bucks County and the surrounding areas that receive the produce are often those that are unable to be served by other food assistance organizations because of other supply and demand issues. Rolling Harvest Food Rescue identifies the need and will step in and offer assistance, or the organization itself will reach out to Rolling Harvest to request help, the latter of which can easily be done via the Rolling Harvest website.
In the beginning stages of the formation of Rolling Harvest, the formerly all-volunteer organization was able to pick up items from individual farms and then immediately deliver them to hunger relief sites. Today, because of an increase in participating farmers and the needs of additional food pantries and shelters, Rolling Harvest volunteers and staff will often pick up the produce, store the items in their on-site cooler and distribute accordingly on certain days at sites where the individual organizations come to pick up the fresh produce. Rolling Harvest Food Rescue’s food partnership with the Bucks County Opportunity Council also helps to make distribution possible.
In addition to helping feed those facing hunger in the local community, Rolling Harvest Food Rescue also aids in the fight against food waste. Citing a statistic from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Cathy stressed the need to cut food waste.
“Forty percent of the food in this country is wasted,” said Cathy. “In total, that’s 63 million tons of food per year.”
The organization is thus serving two purposes: feeding the food insecure in the local community and helping to reduce the amount of food waste while doing so.
Rolling Harvest Food Rescue credits those who make this possible, from the farmers who donate their produce to the Rolling Harvest volunteers and staff members who pick up the produce, take part in on-the-farm gleaning activities and ensure that the fresh produce gets to outside organizations. Rolling Harvest staff members also visit individual hunger relief sites and show staff members and recipients how to put their fresh produce to good, and nutritious, use.
“We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of support by the local community,” expressed Cathy.
Cathy mentions one showing of community support in particular as an example of how those in the area are going out of their way to lend a hand. In this case, it was the Bucks County Commissioners who came to Rolling Harvest’s rescue.
A few months ago, Cathy met with the commissioners about the need for food distribution in the area and expressed that there was a lack of food banks and central distribution sites in Bucks County. While speaking with the commissioners, Cathy also told them of the need for proper cold storage containers. About a half-hour later, one of the commissioners informed Cathy that there was a 25×35-foot cooler and 25×35-foot freezer available that could be used by the food distribution agencies. Thanks to this exchange between Cathy and the commissioners, these items are now currently being put to good use at a central location in Doylestown.
How can individuals throughout Bucks County and surrounding areas lend a hand? If you’re a farmer with extra produce to donate, contact Rolling Harvest Food Rescue. Cathy pointed out that two good reasons to do so, in addition to helping others, include the liability protections available under federal law via the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Protection Act of 1996 and the existence of tax deductions for donations.
For those who are eager to help get the food where it needs to go, Rolling Harvest Food Rescue is always looking for a few good men and women to volunteer their time, which can be arranged online.
The Town Dish gives a resounding round of applause to Cathy, the staff and volunteers at Rolling Harvest Food Rescue and area farmers for all they do to help those facing food insecurity and to reduce food waste in our community.