Do you love local food and farms? Do you want to get your hands dirty out in the fields and do good at the same time? Sign up to become a Healthy Harvester with Food Rescue!
Food Rescue, a program of Goodwill Northern Michigan, rescues, harvests, repacks, and distributes over 200,000 pounds of local produce each year to area meal sites and food pantries. 18,000 pounds of this produce is harvested directly from the fields by Healthy Harvest volunteers through gleaning, the practice of gathering food from the field for neighbors in need. Healthy Harvesters, or gleaners, add a stream of fresh, local food that would otherwise go to waste.
Gleaned crops are most often at the peak of freshness, left in the field due to cosmetic issues, an overly-abundant crop, lack of labor, or a number of other reasons. Alicia Manson, Healthy Harvest Coordinator for Food Rescue, explains; “When we arrive at a farm or orchard for gleaning, it’s unbelievable to see the amount of food that is available for us to rescue – and even more surprising for our volunteers to see that the vast majority of the food is in perfect condition. The recipients at food pantries are also so full of joy when they receive the bounty – it’s a magical gift to give, created with time and care by the farmers, then handled with the same love by the gleaners and the Food Rescue team.”
Gleaning helps increase access to healthy food and battles the effects of climate change at the same time. “Food waste is a gigantic problem in our country; there’s more food in our landfills than anything else. Not only is this a lost opportunity to feed folks who are experiencing food insecurity, but it also has a huge impact on climate change,” says Manson. “When food ends up in a landfill, the energy and effort that went into producing it gets squandered, and there’s also this: buried food in a landfill produces methane (a greenhouse gas). When we glean, we have the opportunity to reduce these gas emissions.”
Who are Healthy Harvesters?
Healthy Harvesters, or volunteer gleaners, come from all ages and walks of life. From family groups and Girl Scout troops, to workplace volunteers from Huntington Bank and MSU Extension, to retired individuals with time to dedicate, Healthy Harvesters actively engage with local farmers and strengthen local food systems. In 2022, 130 volunteers came out to 13 harvests. In 2023, Food Rescue’s goal is to host 200 volunteers at 17 gleanings!
“For the last five years my wife and I have volunteered to glean produce that local farmers have donated to Food Rescue,” says Healthy Harvest volunteer Bill G. “We are able to join a group of friendly, hard-working people and we feel enriched by the privilege to spend time outdoors doing work that helps so many.”
How Do I Sign Up to Be a Healthy Harvester?
Start by signing up on the Goodwill Northern Michigan volunteer platform. Healthy Harvesters are notified by email when gleaning opportunities come up, and simply RSVP their with available time commitment (1-3 hours). Volunteers are then given details on where to go, what to wear, and what to expect. Basic training for harvests is done on-site with Food Rescue staff, working in a crew with other dedicated volunteers to harvest everything from cherries to butternut squash.
“For someone like me with a busy schedule, gleaning with Food Rescue is the perfect volunteer opportunity. The time commitment is very small, but has an exponentially positive impact for those in our community experiencing food insecurity. Indeed, many hands make for light work,” explains veteran volunteer Barb B.
According to Manson, Healthy Harvesters make a huge impact in their community and bring a positive spirit to the work. “Gleaning is one of the solutions to the huge problems of food waste and food insecurity in our region, and it’s beautiful to me because it is powered by a spirit of generosity. The farmers donate their thoughtfully-curated crops, our gleaners devote their time and energy to the harvesting, and the process is always so full of joy. Witnessing this cycle gives me hope because it truly exemplifies the power of sharing, and it creates such glimmers of light for everyone involved.”
For questions about becoming involved with gleans through Food Rescue, reach out to Manson at [email protected]. Become a Healthy Harvester and make a connection to your local food community today!
This post was made in partnership with Food Rescue.
Claire Butler is the Content Strategy Specialist for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at [email protected]