Monday, 15 September 2008

Gleaners supply food banks - NY Times

Gleaners deliver to seniors in Berkeley CA Following is a digest of the full text in NYT 14 Sep 08:

The concept of gleaning, leaving a portion of crops for the needy, goes back to Biblical times. Natasha Boissier started North Berkeley Harvest, which collects fruit and delivers it to food banks and senior centers. She noticed the fruit-bearing trees in her neighbours' yards — and how much wound up on the ground. “There was all this fruit going to waste,” she said of the apples, pears and plums in her midst. “It seemed like such a natural way to deal with hunger.”

She is one of many urban gleaners, volunteers who gather surplus fruit and donate it to food banks, centers for the elderly and other nonprofit organizations. “Farmers' markets are great for those who can afford to spend $2 on a peach,” said Aviva Furman of Community Harvest in Seattle. “But a huge percentage of Americans can’t afford the two cups of fruit a day recommended by the government.” In Silicon Valley, Village Harvest uses sophisticated databases and remote telephone answering systems to track the group’s 700 or so volunteers, 1,000 homeowners who report when fruit is ready to be gleaned, and those who receive it: 40 seniors' centers and food banks. “You feel like you’re actually doing something,” sats one volunteer gleaner. “You pick a piece of fruit and know that someone’s going to eat it.” Pickers form something like an internet-driven instant mob: “Their speed is astonishing,” says a local food bank director. “They’ll call and say, ‘Hey, we’re hitting an orchard in San Jose.’ Then they walk in with 1,000 pounds of plums.” The fruit is fresh, and highly nutritious. “It’s really about tying the community together.” In Los Angeles, three “social activist” artists who call themselves Fallen Fruit mapped neighborhood free-fruit zones -- alleys, sidewalks and parking medians -- leaflet neighbours with harvestable treesm and sponsor public “fruit jams”. At the Bay Area Rescue Mission in Richmond CA, Roy Hunderson, homeless for four years, prepares meals in the kitchen. “The fresher the fruit, the better it is,” Mr. Hunderson said. “If I had a backyard with fruit going, I’d bring it here too.”

Feeding America, a nonprofit that supplies more than 200 US food banks around the country, has introduced fresh produce to respond to lack of access to nutritional food in low-income neighborhoods -- 150 million pounds a year. It is well-known that ghetto stores charge more for lower quality food. And Rick Bella, the director of food purchasing, regrets the skewed priorities of the commercial market: "...a package of Twinkies per pound costs a lot less than a pound of fresh apples” !

Back in World War II the private garden became “a place of civic obligation,” says Amy Bentley, an associate professor of food studies at New York University and the author of Eating for Victory. That spirit may be returning.

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