To celebrate Maine Gleaning Week, Oct. 9-16, volunteers from Healthy Waterville Action Food Recovery Team and Central Maine Gleaning Group are hosting a recruitment table at the Oct. 17 Waterville Farmers Market. Come sign up to help out. We will be hosting a kid-friendly scavenger hunt at the Waterville Farmers Market; the winner will receive a $25 gift certificate for the market.

For many, October is harvest month. Those with gardens are flooded with tomatoes, zucchini and squash, enough so they share generously with their neighbors and friends. Farms all over the state have the most variety they have had all year, and farm markets are filled with color.

Unfortunately, those same farms are often left with hundreds of pounds of fruit and vegetables that are not suitable for sale, either because of appearance or size. According to the documentary “Just Eat It,” there are size requirements for much of the produce that is sold at supermarkets. Bananas, for example, must fit inside a device that looks like a carpenter’s square. Bananas that don’t meet this standard are often left on the ground to rot; harvesting them is just too expensive and labor-intensive for most farmers. Yet, at the same time, some of our neighbors are going without food. One solution to this inequity is gleaning, an effort to reduce food waste and increase access to healthy food for all.

Gleaning, or food rescue, is defined by the Maine Gleaning Network as “gathering of produce after or during an active harvest and donating the produce to humans rather than for compost or for animal feed. The produce gleaned could be used for direct distribution to those in need of emergency food or it could be processed at a soup kitchen.”

In other words, some vegetables may look wonky, but they still taste pretty good, especially to families that struggle with food insecurity. Grocery stores may reject a carrot because it is misshapen; however, the carrot still tastes like a carrot and has the same nutritional value. A 2016 report by ReFed estimates that 20 billion pounds of produce were left out in fields across the country, for mostly cosmetic reasons.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 15.8% of Maine households, or about 200,000 Mainers, are food insecure. Of this, approximately 20% are children. Some of these people receive food assistance through SNAP or WIC programs; others rely on food banks and community food aid programs.

These programs are extremely helpful. Individuals who staff these programs need to be congratulated for their dedication to helping others. To expect them to go out into the field and gather leftover produce would take more resources than most programs can spare. While farmers already donate much of their excess food to these programs, farmers often don’t have the time to harvest food that will never go to market.

Hence the creation of Maine Gleaning Network, whose goal is to “ensure that Maine’s food system can count on professionalized gleaning and food rescue services to support local farms, community food security, and living economies.”

During Maine Gleaning Week, there will be food rescue events scheduled around the state. To learn more about this organization, go to www.mainegleaningnetwork.org.

Recently local pears and apples were gleaned and brought to the Sacred Heart lunch program, the Muskie Center and Waterville Food Pantry. Since June, members of Central Maine Gleaners Group have been gleaning food from Maine General Hospital and the weekly Waterville Farmers Market for the Waterville Homeless Shelter. In September, 200-plus pounds of apples from an orchard in Albion were brought to the Alfond Youth Center and the Evening Sandwich program.

Here is how you can help: If you have extra produce to donate, if you would like to help collect food for community meals or service organizations, or if you are interested in receiving rescued food for a community meal, contact Healthy Waterville Action Team on Facebook or through their website (www.healthynorthernkennebec.me/healthy-waterville/action-team/)

Steve Knight, a volunteer with Central Maine Gleaners Group, lives in Waterville.  He can be reached at: [email protected]


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