October is School Gleaning Month and we’re celebrating just how great and impactful the gleaning program is here on Martha’s Vineyard. So far this year over 200 volunteers have lent their time to Island Grown Initiative’s (IGI) gleaning program, an impressive number and one that reflects a 50% increase since January. With the help of those four hundred plus hands 21,500 pounds of produce have already been recovered already in 2018, putting the program on track to meet (or exceed) last year’s record-breaking harvest–now that’s something to celebrate!

Gleaning is an incredibly useful and sustainable practice that can help offset hunger here on-Island and around the world. Gleaning provides a solution to both hunger and crop waste. Nationwide, 40% of the food that is grown is never eaten, yet one in six Americans suffer from food insecurity. Let that statistic just sink in for a minute. Almost half of all the food we grow is completely wasted and almost 17% of Americans do not have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Crazy, huh? And yes, we here on Martha’s Vineyard are affected by that too.

 

Luckily, our team at Island Grown Initiative (IGI) is doing something about it–and they’re doing a lot. In 2009, IGI began a gleaning program to capture crop waste and unsaleable produce from local farms, and there’s dozens of them. Since the program’s inception IGI has rescued 166,000 pounds of produce and counting. Now let that statistic sink in. That’s 166,000 pounds of food that otherwise would have been left to spoil or be tilled over. That otherwise would’ve been wasted and unused, on an Island where food equity is a very real issue.

We can all understand that food waste and hunger go hand in hand. While food scraps and unspoiled produce is being thrown into the trash and hauled to landfills, many families remain desperate for access to fresh food. By gleaning our local farms we are decreasing both hunger and crop waste, and sharing the delicious and nutritious bounty of our friends’ and neighbors’ land. More food gets used, more people get fed, it’s a win-win.

So how does IGI do it? With a lot of help and a lot of hands, and they’re always looking for more. Local gleaners work with farmers to capture excess quality produce that may be a little over ripened, or not as beautiful as what you see in the market. It might be the tail end of the season when farmers need to start making space for the next season’s crop, so “out with the old” it goes. Through the gleaning program that extra food is farmed, picked, and otherwise captured, and delivered for free to those in need, including our elders and children, our schools, and social service agencies like Serving Hands and the Island Food Pantry. No food left behind, and more mouths that can be fed.

The gleaning program requires a lot of work and a lot of time from dedicated volunteers. IGI is always in need of volunteers to help them recover their goal of 30,000 pounds of food his year, and about 1,000 hours of seasonal volunteer time are needed to keep the program viable. The commitment can be as big or as small as you make it. If you only have an hour here and there that time can still make a difference. Whether you come once a week or once a year they’d love to have you, and we’re pretty confident you’ll be happy you did. Many of IGI’s current volunteers have been doing the work for years because of the satisfaction they get for helping their neighbors and the joy of being with others who are doing the same.

Interested in volunteering yet? Click here to sign up to glean. Participating farms include The Allen Farm, Ghost Island Farm, Morning Glory Farm, North Tabor Farm, The Good Farm, Slip Away Farm, Quanaimes Gardens and Whippoorwill Farm.