Piscataquis County has always stood out to me as a place of immense natural beauty. We have wide valleys, mountain vistas, well cared for bodies of water and a strong agricultural prescience. I consider it a very lucky experience to be surrounded by this natural beauty and even more so, to be in and around local food producers. There are so many local farmers toiling in fields to raise food for their communities in Maine. There are many neighbors toiling in their home-gardens to have food throughout the winter. There are many folks involved in working the land to provide sustenance for themselves and others.
Yet, what also stands out to me is this: 13.6% of Maine's households* are considered "food insecure" meaning 13.6% lack access to healthy, affordable food on a regular basis. 2,910 folks are food insecure* in Piscataquis County. So how can we as a community of food producers and food consumers support each-other and boost circulation of home-grown goodness?
The solution to the issue of food insecurity is complex and requires a comprehensive understanding to ensure all basic needs, including getting food on the table, are met. However rather recently, a first step in that process of solution making arose. The some-what simple solution? Gleaning.
Gleaning is the act of gathering up excess produce after the majority of the crop has been harvested to bring to people in need. The produce that's left in the field is still good and delicious it's just surplus and might not be top notch marketable. With so many folks facing difficulties in getting food on the table, the work of gleaning to redistribute a crop on it's way out seemed like a great first step in supporting a free food resource.
So, conversations brewed between the PR Food Center and Piscataquis County Cooperative Extension Office on how to best implement a Glean Team. We knew we needed to pilot with one farm, focus on one crop, and make it to one local food cupboard distribution, as a start.
We approached our neighbors Courtney and Ryan, owners of Marr Pond Farm in Sangerville. Marr Pond Farm is certified organic, offering a range of produce, shiitake mushrooms, herbs and gorgeous flowers. They practice a farming style and food production philosophy that makes sure their soil stays healthy and their produce is pesticide-free. Courtney and Ryan also believe in distributing food to surrounding communities as much as possible. All this as well as the gorgeous farm location were reason enough for us to say YES to a glean at the beginning of the month.
Erin Callaway, Karen Murphy and myself harvested Italian Eggplant and Bell Peppers. All together we gleaned 121 lbs of eggplant and 187 lbs of peppers!
Gleaning is one of many action steps we can take to better circulate locally produced food. Please contact us, or Piscataquis County Cooperative Extension Office if you'd like to join us next time.