Gleaning Program Gives Back – Local Farmers Extend Their Dinner Table This Season

While the farmers’ markets close the doors on the end of another grueling but delectable season, Round the Bend Farm is not yet ready to join them. The fields just off Jane Street are still full of character as an abundance of leftover root crops and hearty greens patiently anticipate their delayed harvest.

It’s “gleaning” time.

Gleaning is the process of gathering vegetables and fruits from the fields that would otherwise be left to rot or be plowed under. The York Region Food Network’s (YRFN) Gleaning Program works with local farmers,  like Sue Feddema and her husband Brian at Round the Bend, to help provide fresh fruit and vegetables for community members who are living on a limited income. The program ensures the good food does not go to waste, while filling the dinner plates of local families at no cost.

During the first week of November, two buses and a convoy of cars pull up at Round the Bend Farm and community members pour out into the fields, eager to fill their arms (and their dinner tables) with apples, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, leaks, Spanish onions, celery, rutabagas, kale, swiss chard and ball cabbages. They carry away cartloads of produce that will supply their families with meals for months to come. “Some are so overwhelmed, they can hardly carry the stuff,” Feddema explains. “They’re in complete tears because they’re providing for themselves and their families.”

For farmers, there’s nothing more disheartening than being forced to plow over a field of cauliflower that developed late in the season due to weather setbacks or other obstacles. This is especially true after this year’s season, when very little rain meant a lot of extra work irrigating the fields. The Gleaning Program is all about reducing waste, and in efforts to make every bite last, the YRFN also offers food preservation and canning workshops, as well as classes on general food skills, such as cooking on a budget and cooking from scratch. “I’ve had people come back to me in the spring, and they’re just eating the last cabbages they were able to pick at Round the Bend Farm,” says Joan Stonehocker, Executive Director at York Region Food Network. “So it really does supply produce for many months for some families.”

Of course, providing your family with meals made from fresh ingredients is a privilege; and its one not all of our neighbours can afford. “We give back to the community because it’s the right thing to do,” says Feddema. “If you have, you should give. We can’t give a new car or provide transportation, but we can provide food, and everyone needs to eat.”

And while a full belly may be the ultimate goal, the experience can be equally rewarding. Feddema explains many of the gleaners are immigrants who have made Newmarket, Aurora or Georgina their new home, and often they come with their own farming experience. “They’re ever so grateful because they understand the hard work that goes into producing your food, and they appreciate what they get,” she says.

Since joining over 10 years ago, the Feddemas have witnessed firsthand how the Gleaning Program benefits local community members. And in many ways, the gift comes full circle. Feddema says she’s met past gleaners who no longer need the help themselves, but choose to come back to the farm to harvest for a local food bank.

“For us, food is food. If my daughter wants to make supper, she goes to the fridge and gets what she wants,” says Feddema. But for many other families, fresh food is not something they get to see or indulge in every day. “It makes you appreciate what you have,” she says.

Just as the fruit and veggies we fill our baskets with are far from perfect in colour, shape and size, neither are our life circumstances. And if there’s one gift everyone deserves this season, it’s that of a fresh, nutritious meal.

Article by Charlotte Ottaway

Local Links

York Region Food Network

Round the Bend Farm

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