Thrasher Methodist gleans at Johnson’s Orchards to feed the hungry
VINTON–It is estimated that over 96 billion pounds of fresh food go to waste each year in the United States—food left in the fields because it is missed by mechanical harvesting or because the crops aren’t attractive enough for supermarket shelves. That’s 20% of all the crops grown and enough to feed 36 million Americans.
The food is edible and nutritious, just not commercially marketable. It is usually plowed under or left to rot.
Since 1983 an ecumenical, non-profit organization, the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) has been working to salvage these crops, employing the traditional Biblical concept of gleaning which puts people into fields to gather fruits and vegetables that remain after harvest.
SoSA takes their mission from Deuteronomy 24: 19 (NIV) which says, “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
On September 22, a group from Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church in Vinton traveled to Johnson’s Orchards in Bedford to contribute to this effort. Tina Yates, the Director of Christian Formation at the church coordinated the trip.
The Thrasher gleaners spent the morning sorting through apples on the ground under the trees, avoiding honey bees, choosing fruit that was still usable, bagging some into ten-pound net bags. They loaded it all onto a trailer for delivery to the Hurley Community Development Center in Hurley, Virginia, to be distributed within 24 to 48 hours. The Center there has a list of individuals in need of food supplies.
Hurley is located in Buchanan County in southwestern Virginia where the states of West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky meet. With a population of around only 2,000, the small community has experienced many financial hardships and widespread unemployment due to the closing of a large number of the coal mines in the region. They also fell victim to severe flooding in 2002 which wiped out much of the town.
Since the Society of St. Andrew was established in 1983, volunteers have salvaged and distributed more than 623 million pounds of produce across America. They distribute the surplus and rejected crops to food banks, soup kitchens, group homes, reservations, food pantries, low income and elderly housing complexes, local churches, homeless shelters, rehab facilities, and other hunger agencies for distribution to the poor.
Their name is taken from Andrew, the disciple of Jesus, who introduced the little boy with five loaves and two fishes to Jesus in the Biblical story of the feeding of the 5,000.
The Society of St. Andrew had its beginnings in 1979 when Ken Horne and Ray Buchanan, two United Methodist ministers right out of seminary, had a vision of a world without hunger. They were living in rural in Virginia working on hunger issues for the Methodist church.
Using a converted sheep shed in Big Island, Virginia, as an office, they conducted workshops for church groups on responsible living in a world where many people go hungry.
In 1983 at a church on the eastern shore, Horne and Buchanan spoke about transforming their primarily educational organization into one committed to feeding hungry people. The men discussed the possibility of collecting food that would be thrown away because it didn’t fit market standards, and using it to feed people.
Potato farmers from that church said they would be willing to talk to other potato farmers on the shore to help Horne and Buchanan achieve their goals. One farmer gave them a pickup-truck load of potatoes from his field, which quickly led to 13 tractor-trailer loads of potatoes donated by other farmers. As a result, the Society of St. Andrew’s Potato Project was born.
Now, tens of thousands of volunteers from churches, synagogues, scout troops, colleges, civic groups, and other organizations participate each year in Society of St. Andrew gleaning activities.
Each year, tens of millions of pounds of produce are collected and given to the poor at no cost to them. The SoSA network coordinates volunteers, growers, and distribution agencies.
Beginning in 1992, the Society of St. Andrew expanded into other states in the form of regional offices and gleaning ministries. Gleaners gather a variety of produce depending upon their location, from citrus fruits in Florida, to watermelons in Kansas, to potatoes, apples, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, blueberries, cabbage, onions, squash, corn, turnips, and cucumbers throughout the country.
“In southwest Virginia, gleaning generally begins in July with corn and continues into December with turnips, root vegetables, and winter squash,” said Sarah Ramey, the Virginia Gleaning Network Director for the state of Virginia. “In the Tidewater area, gleaning is possible 10 to 11 months of the year.”
Because this produce is donated, the Society of St. Andrew pays only for the transportation and packaging of the food, which allows them to provide food to the nation’s hungry for about 2.4 cents per serving
Ramey began gleaning in 1994 when she lived in Winchester. Now she coordinates gleaning for the Society of St. Andrew throughout this region, working almost every weekend, and sometimes during the week to accommodate the schedules of volunteers.
“Scheduling can be difficult as farmers only call when they have leftover food,” said Ramey. “We also glean at Farmer’s Markets, taking donations or accepting what is not sold.”
Not only is she always on the lookout for volunteers to glean; she is always looking for new farmers to work with. There are advantages for the farmers since growers can receive a state and federal tax deduction for gleaned and donated crops.
Next weekend, on September 29, volunteers are needed to glean apples at orchards in Bedford, Lynchburg, and Roanoke, including Johnson’s Orchards again. Johnson’s is a five-generation family owned and operated farm at the foot of the Peaks of Otter with 200+ acres and 200 different varieties on 7500 apple trees.
Volunteers are invited to the “Apple Pickin’ Jamboree” from 8:00 a.m. until noon at Johnson’s Orchards, the A.J. Gross Orchards in Bedford, and at Bryant Orchard in Troutville. Gleaned fruit will be donated to local food banks and other agencies such as the Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army.
People of all ages can glean. The Thrasher group included Yates, Pastor B. Failes, and a diverse group of preschoolers through senior adults.
Their youth group will be gleaning again later on in the fall in Christiansburg during their observance of the 30 Hour Famine project, which raises money for World Vision.
“They’re going to be gleaning turnips,” said Yates. “That’s less tempting than apples when you are going hungry for 30 hours.”
Gleaners should be able to bend over to pick up fruit and lift several pounds of produce. Anyone allergic to bees should beware.
Details are available at the Society of St. Andrew website, www.endhunger.org or by calling 1-800-333-459.