A partnership between Community Harvest Food Bank and local farmers is helping bring fresh produce to those most in need in northeast Indiana.
Community Harvest has been participating in crop gleaning for the past two years, CEO John Wolf said.
The process is simple: After farmers have finished harvesting their crops for the year, Community Harvest is invited to come in and pick what’s left.
While the process has only been formally going on for the past two years, the idea for one family has gone back generations.
“We’ve donated excess produce or second-grade produce that we can’t sell to Community Harvest for years now. My grandpa started taking it in 20 years ago,” Matt Kurtz said.
“We’ve got a pretty good rapport with the Kurtz farm so we’ve been buying corn and green beans from them all summer,” Wolf said. “They had a good season here and Ralph and Matt have been gracious enough to allow us to come in and glean some of this at the end of the season.”
In a matter of three weeks, Community Harvest was able to glean more than 40,000 pounds of produce for its more than 400 agencies, as well as its own Community Cupboard, farm wagon and Helping Hands programs.
Those 20 tons of food have included peppers, squash, eggplant, pumpkins and more.
Community Harvest workers and volunteer crews glean the fields. On a recent October morning, a crew from the Allen County Community Corrections was able to harvest more than 5,000 pounds of pumpkins in a couple of hours. Other groups have included school groups and volunteers from government organizations.
The gleaning not only benefits Community Harvest but the farmers as well, Kurtz said, adding he and his family don’t have time to go through and pick excess produce before it’s time to plant for the next season.
“It’s pretty much a win-win,” Wolf said.
The gleaning is part of a larger push by Community Harvest and food banks around the country to get more fresh produce to their clients.
Community Harvest also opened the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Produce Preservation Center in August 2015 to help preserve fresh produce bought during peak seasons, Wolf said. This produce can then be given out even in the winter months.
Though the program is still relatively new, the response has been “overall very positive,” Wolf said.
“We’re just kind of working together to help get more fresh produce and vegetables to the clients,” he said of the partnership. “That’s kind of our game plan, to buy local and also to give some fresh produce to the clients instead of just having canned goods. … We give out a lot of canned goods that are donated, which is great, but when you can give out fresh it’s more healthy. We’re just trying to do the right thing to give our clients fresh produce when its available.”