Dotting the Maine countryside are small plots growing more fruits and vegetables than the farmers who work the land could ever pick. But despite this bountifulness, some of the state’s residents forgo buying produce because of tight budgets.
This is where Hannah Semler, the coordinator of the gleaning initiative for the nonprofit Healthy Acadia, steps in. Semler leads a team of volunteers to pick whatever is left after farmers have harvested as much as they can.
In Blue Hill, Amanda Provencher and Paul Schultz of King Hill Farm welcome her regularly to their fields. “We just don’t have time to pick everything we grow, so we’d just till it right back into the soil or feed it to the animals, but it’s still totally good food,” Schultz tells Seth Freed Wessler of NBC News. “Hannah is identifying a resource that we have that otherwise we just would not be utilized because there are not enough hours in the day.”
At King Hill Farm and 18 other Maine farms, Semler and the volunteers for Healthy Acadia glean 30,000 pounds of food a year that would otherwise go to waste. They deliver it to food pantries for the needy and to the Magic Food Bus (sponsored by Healthy Peninsula), which delivers produce to schools and housing complexes for elderly people.
According to Wessler, about 40 percent of American crops are never harvested. Meanwhile, 15 percent of Americans are food insecure (i.e. they don’t have enough healthy food).
Rick Traub, the president of Tree of Life, a Maine food pantry that distributes food that Semler collects, tells Wessler, “Poverty here is everywhere. I go to the grocery store and the person who cashes me out, I see her the next day at the pantry. The problem of hunger in the U.S. has very little to do with a scarcity of food. There’s far more food available around here than people to eat it. The problem is really about access.”
With a team of volunteers using their time and muscle to harvest good produce that otherwise would go to waste, access to nutritious food is expanding in Maine. Let’s hope this practice spreads to other states, too.