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Rolling Harvest Food Rescue: Turning Food Pantries Into Farmers Markets

From Bucks County Women’s Journal, June/July 2017: Making a Difference

Rolling Harvest Food Rescue is a modern-day gleaning organization, referring to the ancient biblical practice of farmers leaving crops in their fields for the hungry to collect for nourishment.

We have evolved into a society in which the poor and hungry no longer live alongside our growers, so it now takes teams of dedicated volunteers, farmers committed to their communities, and the logistical infrastructure to efficiently and effectively distribute healthy, locally grown produce to those in need. Rolling Harvest has been doing just that since 2010.

Rolling Harvest Food Rescue, a nonprofit registered in Pennsylvania, was created after Founder and Executive Director Cathy Snyder was volunteering at a local food pantry in the New Hope area, seeing mostly canned and dry goods being offered to the food-insecure and financially struggling families coming for food, many of whom were already dealing with diet-related health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure. Snyder recognized the need to provide fresher, more nutritious food choices at the food pantry, so she started asking at the local Farmers Market for donations of produce. “The farmers suggested that going directly to their farms when it’s more convenient for them was a much better way. That’s been our model ever since,” says Snyder.

In just a few short years, Rolling Harvest has grown from serving that one pantry and first farm to now partnering with 32 local growers and more than 60 hunger-relief sites. It has expanded to include food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, community meals, low-income senior housing, children’s shelters, senior centers, and more—wherever the priority for fresher, healthier food choices is still an unmet need in Bucks County, PA and Hunterdon and Mercer Counties in NJ. To date, more than 1,470,000 pounds of locally grown food have been rescued. That is an additional six million servings of healthy food on the plates of financially struggling families. And Rolling Harvest believes that it is just scratching the surface of all that is available.

The people served are the new face of hunger and food hardship in Bucks County: 32% of the estimated 64,000 foodinsecure people are children, and 14% are seniors. Many are hardworking, underemployed, disabled, or struggling with home foreclosures and serious medical issues. As pantries are stretched to their limits, they are seeing increases in the number of families coming for help. And, with so much uncertainty about government-provided social safety nets continuing to be available, every nonprofit is braced to have to do so much more with fewer resources.

“I am in awe of our local farmers”, says Program Director Jamie McKnight. “Their commitment, generosity, and hard work towards our food rescue mission just keeps growing.” No farmer wants to see the fruits of his or her labor go to waste, especially when there is so much surplus and so many people are hungry. Many farm partners are now even growing extra for Rolling Harvest to share. And many use their own crews to harvest for donation, freeing up Rolling Harvest volunteers to do the job of finding the right homes for everything they grow.

There is never a charge to the pantries and other hunger-relief sites or a pick-up fee to the farmers and food producers. Rolling Harvest depends entirely on donations to keep up with the growing demand for its services. Its most pressing need right now is a new refrigerated delivery truck for this harvest season. This will enable Cathy and her staff to safely accept and distribute even more produce and will enable the farmers to donate in large pallets, making distribution safer and reducing the time it takes to load and offoad food.

Rolling Harvest Food Rescue has many different distribution models. It conducts two weekly produce distributions in New Britain and Bensalem, inviting every hunger-relief site in the county to come and pick up as much as they need, holds weekly Free Farm Markets and Nutrition Education events using that week’s produce at participating food pantries, and frequent gleaning/harvesting events for their volunteer corps and business and community groups. In addition to the larger distributions, Rolling Harvest delivers to smaller social service locations that lack transportation.

A new donated cold-storage space provided by our Bucks County Commissioners means that more surplus donated food can now be procured and stored for the County. This opens the door to collaboration for greater impact: Rolling Harvest is an active participant on the Collective Impact Hunger Solutions Team, organized by United Way of Bucks County, and the Hunger Nutrition Coalition of Bucks County, made up of community hunger fighters and organizations. This spring, the result of this collaboration was the launch of a new initiative called “Fresh Connect Bucks County,” a mobile Free Farm Market that sets up once a week in the underserved neighborhoods of Bristol and Ottsville to provide distribution of thousands of pounds of produce directly to at-risk community residents.

We all agree that it’s no longer just about feeding hungry people. It’s about feeding them well and empowering all with better health for a more productive future.

To learn more, check out www.RollingHarvest.org. To support Rolling Harvest Food Rescue, please visit www.rollingharvest.org/make-a-donation.

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