Dozens of volunteers gleaned for the greater good Saturday.
They flocked to Green Bluff to pick thousands of pounds of leftover produce to donate to Second Harvest Food Bank to help feed families and seniors in the region. The harvest is based on an ancient practice called gleaning, in which remaining crops are picked after farmers’ fields are commercially harvested, often to feed people who struggle to put food on the table.
Last year, volunteers picked more than 28,000 pounds for Second Harvest. Because of a successful commercial season this year, there was a lot less left over for volunteers to pick, but harvest coordinator Keith Burgeson said some fresh produce is better than none. About 125 participants picked more than 12,000 pounds of produce at this year’s event.
“The idea, basically, is to capture surplus produce so it doesn’t go to waste,” Burgeson said. “As far as the food bank goes, it’s obviously a shame we won’t get as much this year, but we don’t want any to go to waste, whether it’s a lot or a little.”
This year, volunteers picked produce – mostly apples – from three Green Bluff growers. Last year, six growers participated.
Second Harvest officials visited Green Bluff a few days ago to scout out how much produce was left on the trees, and when they returned Saturday, they discovered some of it had fallen to the ground.
“There’s a lot less to pick,” Burgeson said. “Even if it’s been on the ground just a day we can’t take it, which is disappointing.”
Last year Second Harvest distributed about 21.5 million pounds of food. Each year, it distributes roughly 6 million to 8 million pounds of fresh produce.
Volunteers came from Fairchild Air Force Base and local Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions clubs, as well as Rogers High School and North Central High School. The Green Bluff food bank harvest began in 2007.
“It’s an opportunity for all of us to get together and work together for the good of the community,” said volunteer Chuck Richardson, of the South Hill Kiwanis Club. “And that’s what we do.”
State Rep. John Ahern, a Kiwanis member who announced his retirement from the Legislature this year, said the clubs banded together for the event to have a bigger impact.
“We have a lot of fun doing this,” Ahern said. “And it gives back to the community, which is really what we’re here for.”
Volunteers took turns mounting ladders, plucking fruit from trees and loading heavy boxes into a truck to take back to Second Harvest and eventually distribute to regional food banks.
The somewhat smaller haul and the rainy weather didn’t weaken their spirit of service.
“We got everything cleaned out,” Ahern said. “Every tree has been picked.”