Along the Midcoast of Maine, some people don’t have access to the fruit and vegetables they need for a healthy diet. At the same time, some area farms aren’t able to harvest or sell all of their produce, resulting in wasted food. To remedy this issue, nutrition educators in Maine, supported by funding from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), partner with local organizations and food councils to find solutions to benefit both parties.
And gleaning may be an answer.
Gleaning is the collection of leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.
FNS helps nutrition educators in many Maine counties work with local food security organizations to connect farmers and community volunteer gleaners with local agencies that administer the FNS Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Head Start and public housing locations. Nutrition educators show recipients how to prepare and store fresh produce and provide easy, healthy recipes to accompany the free produce. They also provide technical support to gleaning teams throughout the year, especially during the busy harvest season.
Gleaning groups like the Merrymeeting Gleaners, recover food that would otherwise not be picked from farmers’ fields and provide an opportunity to change the way the community gains access to fruits and vegetables. Farmers are thrilled to share the surplus of their harvest with underserved community members.
In 2016, more than 14,000 pounds of fresh produce was rescued and distributed to SNAP-eligible recipients. At one low-income housing site, Bath Housing, about 150 people received almost 1,000 pounds of fresh produce. Eating more fruits and vegetables adds nutrients to the diet, reduces the risk for chronic disease and helps manage body weight. Making healthier options more available also goes a long way in helping families meet the MyPlate recommendation of making half your plate fruits and vegetables.
The Midcoast community has created an impressive infrastructure to serve its highest - need residents. By working with FNS-sponsored programs, groups like Merrymeeting Gleaners have established over 15 regular distribution sites for the 2017 harvest season and the gleaning effort is growing.
FNS is committed to teaching low-income families the knowledge and skills needed to make healthier lifestyle choices. FNS nutrition education programs, such as gleaning programs, offer easy access to people across Maine, and all of the United States.