During a weekly trip to the supermarket, it’s not hard for the produce section to catch the eye. Brightly colored and delectable, the selection of fruits and vegetables available to the consumer is plentiful. Yet not all of the food harvested by farms gets sold, and the unused produce is usually left to rot.
The Gold Country Gleaners, in cooperation with local farms, has made it its mission to gather this forgotten nutrition and put it to good use.
An all-volunteer organization, the Gleaners has been taking excess produce from farms and donating it to food pantries and nonprofit organizations for more than four years. Recently, the organization coordinated a trip to Mountain Bounty Farm, a local outfit located on the San Juan Ridge that has been working with the Gleaners since its genesis.
“We have been farming for quite a while, and we’ve always hoped for a relationship like this, with someone who would help us to distribute our surplus for (those in need),” said John Tecklin, owner of Mountain Bounty. “We have surplus produce, but we are in the business of farming and don’t really have the time to deal with it. They have the logistical capabilities that we don’t, so it’s a perfect fit.”
The Gold Country Gleaners is made up of more than 200 volunteers and coordinates with people who have additional fruits and vegetables to donate. Whether it’s a full-scale farm or an individual with only a few extra veggies, the Gleaners is dedicated to serving the community and welcomes all to participate.
“We just want people to know, if there’s extra stuff in the garden, there’s an organization that makes sure it gets to people in need,” said Hillary Hodge, one of the core volunteers for the Gleaners.
“We do a good job and any job; there’s no job too big or too small for us.
“Mountain Bounty Farm is in a unique position. It is very big, very together, and they have actual hired people. They just don’t want food to go to waste if it doesn’t have to, and Tecklin does it out of the kindness of his heart,” Hodge added. “For smaller operations, for example, if you leave apples on the ground … the tree can sense that it shouldn’t produce as much next year and it attracts pests, as well. The Gleaners will come and clean up the orchard, gather the surplus from the tree and donate to local organizations that need it. Another thing is, a lot of the time the average age of farmer is fairly old. They are 57, 58, and they can get really tired. So they can get the Gleaners to come, and we will give them a pick of the food we gather. So they get the pick of the crop, and we get the rest.”
Women of Worth receives boxes of vegetables every week during the summer to feed women and children sheltered in safe houses but isn’t the only organization that benefits. The Gold Country Gleaners also donates to the Interfaith Food Ministry, the Salvation Army, the San Juan Ridge Family Resource Center and more, according to Hodge.
“They’re a great organization that helps individuals by donating fruit from trees, and they give those donations to us when we can’t go out ourselves and pick the food,” said Makayla Confer, who serves as nutrition education coordinator at the Food Bank of Nevada County. “It’s a pretty big help. A lot of the stuff, like plums, apples and pears for example, go to the kids and allow them to eat healthy snacks.”
With a spring that had been warmer than usual for the area, many farmers have seen better-than-expected yields for their crops. As a result, the Gleaners have had to get the ball rolling on the season.
“Because we are such an agriculturally rich county, it’s hard to keep in the mind that there are a lot of hungry people out there,” Hodge said. “The more food that we can get to people in need in this county, the better.”
To arrange a pick or to get more information, call the Gold Country Gleaners at 530-264-8680 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spencer Kellar is an intern with The Union. He can be reached at NCPCInternC@theunion.com.