Written by Dani Lind, VFC Produce Manager
On a lovely Friday afternoon in the middle of July, Driftless Organics in rural Soldiers Grove welcomed me and five other volunteers out to their fields & packing shed to harvest (or “glean”) around 400 pounds of seconds, last pickings, culls, and market returns.
This was the first run of a pilot project of Valley Stewardship Network’s Farm & Food Initiative called “Kickapoo Harvest: Gleaning for Healthy Communities,” aimed at getting healthy, locally produced food into the hands of those who need it most in our region. The gleaned food was distributed to residents of Park View Manor, a fixed income housing complex in Viroqua, as well as the Living Faith Food Pantry.
Over the last year, volunteers of the fledgling Farm & Food Initiative (of which I serve on the Steering Committee, and VFC’s general manager, Jan Rasikas, serves on the Advisory Committee) completed a Community Food Assessment. Several of our findings inspired us to start this pilot gleaning project:
- Many low-income residents lack access to locally produced fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Most area vegetable farms must ship their produce to surrounding urban areas to make a living.
- In the vegetable farming business (except for those who grow for processing), only the cream of the crop gets shipped to market, often times leaving blemished and odd-ball veggies, or “seconds” – which usually don’t make economic sense to harvest, wash, pack, and ship - to rot in the field.
This 2009 pilot program engaged adult and youth volunteers to harvest this excess “unmarketable” produce and fruit grown at several area farms (participating farms include Ridgeland Harvest, Keewaydin Organics farms, Harmony Valley, Miles Farm, Slattery Family Farm, & Turkey Ridge Orchard). Once a month through October, the harvested produce will be cleaned and nicely boxed, CSA style, by volunteers before being distributed to Park View Manor residents.
In addition, area chefs (including VFC’s very own Kim Sandker, as well as VFC members Monique Hooker, Macon Luhning, & Frank Wildingway) are offering cooking demonstrations and recipes to residents along with their gleaned food boxes to help them out with some of the more unusual contents.
Excess gleaned produce is also being distributed to the Viroqua Public Schools’ 5th Season Project. This project was begun last year as part of the school’s Farm to School Program to purchase locally produced food, prepare and freeze it for use in school lunches throughout the school year. The School is partnering with us to provide them with some free gleaned produce as well as delivering seconds for the burgeoning Farm to School Program. In exchange, we get use of the Viroqua High School cafeteria for washing and packing gleaned produce.
With a year of experience under our belt, we hope to be eligible for grants to expand our project next year, enabling us to supply gleaned food to more community members in need. In the future we’d also like to assist local institutions (like schools, hospitals, nursing homes, jail, etc.) in purchasing locally produced food, providing new markets for seconds and other area farms’ products.
If you wish to donate your time or money to help harvest, wash and pack, or distribute gleaned produce, please call Jessica Luhning (608) 637-8568 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.