NH Gleans Provides Farm Fresh Food Security to Locals In Need
NOFA-NH's Gleaning Coordinator, Kelsey Macdonald, and fellow gleaners harvested celery and tomatoes at Tuckaway Farm.
By Nikki Kolb Posted July 13, 2018
Did you know that 26% of New Hampshire school age children were eligible for free or reduced lunch during the 2017-2018 school year (NH DOE), that 10% of the state population – 1 in 10 – is food insecure (that’s roughly 130,000 adults), and that 11% of New Hampshire children are living in food insecure environments (NH Food Bank, 2017)?
Luckily, programs like NH Gleans, in collaboration with NOFA-NH and others are working to get our state’s local bounty of farm fresh food into the hands of those who need it most.
What is NH Gleans?
NH Gleans is a network of organizations working to increase the availability of fresh and local produce distributed to food pantries, soup kitchens, community suppers and schools throughout New Hampshire. Gleaning Coordinators harvest food from farms and farmers markets that would otherwise go undistributed or unsold, and donate that food to partnering community organizations.
Since 2013, NH Gleans has operated with funds from the NH Charitable Foundation and the cooperation of the following key partners: NOFA-NH, Seacoast Eat Local, Community Kitchen in Keene, and the Merrimack, Belknap, and Hillsborough County Conservation Districts. Gleaning coordinators with each partnering organization rescue food from around the state, collaborating with over 85 social service partners to donate that food to people in need.
NOFA-NH’s Gleaning Coordinator, Kelsey MacDonald, works in the Seacoast where she gleaned 17,620 pounds of food in 2017.
What is food insecurity?
The USDA measures food insecurity as the “lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all members of a given household, and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” The Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics further explains the long-term effects of food insecurity as eating habits that often lead to “dietary patterns that are inadequate in specific foods and nutrients,” which “may contribute to malnutrition and increased risk of poor health, chronic disease, and other outcomes.”
Gleaning, defined as gathering (the useful remnants of a crop) from the field after harvesting, fills a multifaceted state need.
In combatting food insecurity, NH Gleans supplies community partners with farm fresh food, it introduces residents to unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, diverts useable produce from the waste stream, and helps mitigate the negative impacts of food waste on our environment and economy.
Post-harvest glean at Heron Pond Farm.
“Seeing that we are helping our community make choices to use fresh and local produce is very rewarding,” said Seneca Adam Bernard, Pantry Market & Mobile Programs Manager for Gather NH, a food pantry that accepts gleaned produce from NOFA-NH’s Gleaning Coordinator. “In addition to the gleans saving Gather hundreds of dollars…Being able to provide fresh, locally grown items has been significant to us and our mission, but also to our shoppers…Being able to tell them that items were picked within the last couple days, versus being grown across the county and shipped here is important to us. Our shoppers are able to choose the freshest produce, and often unique items they would not have purchased otherwise…They have loved the fresh tasting items.”
The Rockingham Community Action Food Pantry in Seabrook, NH, one of the Seacoast area’s NH Gleans program recipients, had this to say about the program: “Working with New Hampshire Gleans…allows the food pantry to have access to local, fresh fruits and vegetables. It gives our clients the option to have healthy, nutritional foods as well as create an opportunity to discuss where their food comes from and why that is important. NH Gleans has also opened doors for the food pantry to create relationships with the farms that they work with.”
Gleaning lettuce on a rainy day at Heron Pond Farm.
Farmers across the state have expressed interest in supporting food access for all in their communities, but financially, this can be tough for small family farms.
While a staggering 40% of all food produced in the U.S. is wasted annually, that figure doesn’t include the untold amount of food that never makes it off of farms. That number was estimated to be 20.2 billion pounds of produce in 2016, HuffPost reported last year.
There are many reasons why crops are left on the farm, writes Nancy Creamer, the HuffPost article’s author. “Timing and weather are critical when it comes to producing a crop. Pollination may have failed due to poor weather, leading to misshapenness; a nutrient deficiency could have produced a discoloration, or there could be minor pest damage that doesn’t affect the quality of the vegetable itself.”
In order to ensure a healthy yield, farmers often over plant their fields. This can lead to a harvest that is too large to tackle for a crop that may sell at too low a price. While donating food that won’t go to market is an ideal to strive for, it can be cost prohibitive for farmers.
Gleaning end of the season kale at Sanborn Hope Farm.
This is where NH Gleans steps in to help farmers combat food insecurity, and promote health in New Hampshire, while also providing the valuable, free service of harvesting unused and unsold crops otherwise destined for the compost.
“In addition to gleaning, I work on a farm full-time,” NOFA-NH’s Gleaning Coordinator, Kelsey MacDonald explained. “Gleaning benefits farmers by providing volunteer labor to harvest their excess, giving them the peace of mind that the product that they seeded, watered, transplanted, and watered won’t be overgrown and mowed over, but rather will be donated to a local organization where it is needed. Secondly, farms receive a tax deduction receipt at the end of the year. This allows them to reduce their costs, where margins are already especially low.”
“Working with NH Gleans is valuable in so many ways for us,” confirmed Sarah Cox, Market Gardens Manager at Tuckaway Farm where Kelsey frequently gleans. “Knowing how many families and individuals in NH experience food insecurity and do not have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables makes it especially hard to see food waste in the field and/or post-harvest. Food waste can inevitably happen at the busiest times of year, when a cooler full of perishable food goes down, when weeds overtake a bed, or just with the positive circumstances of a bumper crop. NH Gleans makes it much easier to get excess or non-marketable food directly to individuals and families that might otherwise not have access.”
What is perhaps most exciting about NH Gleans, though, is how that very access has managed to entice children into eating vegetables, and families into having fun with cooking.
An article from UNH Extension details a partnership between NOFA-NH’s Gleaning Coordinator and Strafford County that has flourished with a series of cooking classes at Revolution Food Pantry in Rochester.
“The gleaned produce provided by NH Gleans was a boon to the program,” wrote Susan Conant who co-designed the classes with Sara Oberle, “and hosting the class at a food pantry meant that any leftover vegetables could be distributed to local families. Kelsey let us know what produce would be available, and from that list we created a menu utilizing as much gleaned produce as possible. Participants tasted and cooked with the produce, and usually took some home, too.”
A potato glean at Riverside Farm.
Conant accounts some particularly fun meals created from the gleaned produce, including Baja tacos, salsa, apple crisp, slaw, roasted root vegetables, and food tastings that exposed kids to microgreens, pomegranates, cilantro and other citrus fruits. But what Conant seems to find most fun about the collaboration is exposing eaters to the unusual foods that enter food pantries through NH Gleans.
“The most amazing produce by far has been watermelon radishes,” she wrote. “They are showstoppers and kids love them! We’ve served them to kids and adults in all of our programs in the county.”
NOFA-NH’s Gleaning Coordinator most frequently gleans at Heron Pond Farm (South Hampton), Tuckaway Farm (Lee), Brandmoore Farm (Rollingsford), Sanborn Hope Farm (Rochester), Brasen Hill Farm (Barrington), Emery Farm (Durham), Meadow's Mirth (Stratham), Riverside Farm (North Berwick, ME), and Barker's Farm (Stratham).
Gleaned produce is most often distributed to the Cornucopia Food Pantry (Durham), Gather (Portsmouth), Rockingham Community Action (Seabrook), Newmarket Elementary School (Newmarket), St. Vincent de Paul (Exeter), UNH Cooperative Extension Nutrition Connections (Dover area), House of Hope (South Berwick, ME), Revolution Food Pantry (Rochester), and Our Neighbor's Table (Amesbury, MA).
Since January, NOFA-NH’s Gleaning Coordinator has collected 7,421 pounds of food in the Seacoast.
The program runs all year round and has already donated foods on the following list to community partners: summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, baby romaine lettuce, sprouting broccoli, lettuce, salanova, salad mix, scallions, peas, radishes, garlic, kale, chard, parsley, bok choy, garlic scapes, kale, chard, parsley, radishes, potatoes, beets, bread, kohlrabi, tat soi, spinach, carrots, rutabagas, winter squash, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes, apples, asparagus, celeriac, oranges, strawberries, pomegranate, tomatoes, cider, eggs, prepared foods, bread and other baked goods. Hungry yet?
Last year, NH Gleans' program coordinators collectively gleaned nearly 165,000 pounds of food, and anticipate this year to be even more fruitful.
Stacey Purslow, the NH Farm to School Program Coordinator at UNH’s Sustainability Institute, directs the NH Gleans program.
360 pounds of gleaned corn from Heron Pond Farm.