By Lauren Wanko
Lots of New Jersayans pick their own apples on the farms at Eastmont Orchards, but these volunteers are picking for others.
“If this can just put a smile on somebody’s face just for one day for spending two hours of my time is just so rewarding. It’s the least we can do,” said volunteer Lisa Ern.
Ern and others are gleaning, or collecting surplus fruits and vegetables left in the field which would have otherwise gone to waste.
“Certain crops we may not have a good marketable crop, but it may be good enough to eat still. A lot of fruit crops have trouble just with blemishes. It just is not something that a customer desires,” said farm manager John Kruse.
Farmers Against Hunger, a program of the New Jersey Agricultural Society, coordinates the gleanings with about 20 participating farms in the state. The group launched in 1996.
“A few farmers in New Jersey realized that there was a lot of surplus produce in the fields and thought it could be put to good use,” said gleaning coordinator Elise Yerrapathruni.
Farmers Against Hunger gleans everything from summer fruits to winter crops starting in June. The program brings the volunteers and drivers to farms throughout the state.
“We work with over 70 different community organizations, and then in turn those organizations distribute to about 7,500 people weekly during the harvest season,” said Yerrapathruni.
This is Eastmont Orchards’ eighth gleaning this year.
Farmers Against Hunger volunteers started working in the beginning of October. So far they’ve gleaned 18,000 pounds of apples and another 11,000 pounds of winter squash. The produce from this glean goes to the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
Nearly 3,500 pounds of apples are loaded off the truck and into the FoodBank. The nonprofit distributes food to more than 300 partner programs.
“You can literally have produce come in through one door, and then be available for pick-up later that day,” said executive director Carlos Rodriguez.
So far this year, the FoodBank’s received more than 42,000 pounds of donated, fresh produce from local farms.
“Over the last few years we’ve seen a 60 percent increase in the amount of meals that we provide to our neighbors in need,” Rodriguez said, “and that growth has been fueled by local businesses.”
Rodriguez hopes more New Jersey farmers will be inspired to donate their crops to the FoodBank.
“In a year we can distribute as much as two million pounds of produce, but it’s produce that for most part we have to bring in from all parts of the country, so there are trucking fees that go along with that,” Rodriguez said.
Volunteers will glean throughout the state until mid-December