New York State produce growers with good food that can't be harvested are encouraged to donate fruits and vegetables to food banks throughout the state under a new initiative called Glean NY. The project hopes to increase the donation of nutritious fresh food that might not otherwise be harvested due to weather damage, crops fruiting at unusual times, irregular sizes, cosmetic damage or other reasons.
"There's no firm estimate of how much food doesn't get harvested each year," points out Rebecca Schuelke Staehr, a gleaning coordinator with Cornell University. "But even a small percentage of the produce grown in this state could equal tens of thousands of pounds of nutritious food."
Glean NY is a collaboration among the state's farmers, the Food Bank Association of New York State, New York Farm Bureau, and Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Food banks will provide a receipt to a farmer for any donation made. Typically, the farmer fills out the value of the donation. Because farmers already deduct the expenses in raising a crop as a business expense, donations aren't always tax-deductible.
The majority of gleaning today occurs in packing lines and from cold storage, says Staehr. "We're happy to see those donations go to food banks. But we wondered if there are opportunities to get produced that wouldn't otherwise have been harvested get donated as well.
There are a few small efforts where volunteers come in and glean food. These projects occur in communities throughout the country and are often faith-based - however, the volunteer style gleaning is becoming less common due to liability, theft and damage at the farm, volunteers being unfamiliar with farm work, etc.
New York food banks have some funds to reimburse farmers for having their own labor crew harvest product specifically for donation. Sometimes, the crew might stay on a day or two extra to harvest unsalable crops. Otherwise, farmers may choose to donate their labor expenses as well.
The produce doesn't have to be washed or graded. In some instances, food banks can supply field crates, pickup food at the farm and reimburse farmers for their harvesting costs. Many food banks own refrigerated trucks and can arrange pickup of donations within a day or two of receiving a call. There's some money available to reimburse farmers for their labor in harvesting crops.
In the past, some farmers allowed volunteers on the farm to pick produce for donation. That scenerio isn't as attractive today, due to liability and other factors, concedes Staehr. "We're hopeful that this project will encourage more food donation and be a successful example that'll be replicated in other states," says Staehr.
"Partnerships with New York farmers have enabled the food banks to feed millions of people in need," adds John Evers, executive director of the Food Bank Association of New York State. "Our latest partnership in the area of gleaning would benefit both farmers and the hungry."