Have you ever heard of “gleaning?” -- allowing people to pick fresh food left over after the initial harvest is completed? Most of us know little about this concept. Last year, that included Owen O’Neill (Class of 2014) and his Leadership Engage classmates who took it on as a civic engagement project.
Since then, thanks to LPBC, Owen has come to appreciate the importance of gleaning, discovering a world of radishes the size of apples in the fields of the Glades and elsewhere as he worked to feed the hungry of Palm Beach County.
By Owen O’Neill
As an adult living in Palm Beach County, I was amazed to learn how large an issue hunger is in our area. I was amazed to learn that hunger was directly related to obesity! Doesn’t make sense -- does it?
But the truth is, our county, which has vast access to agriculture, is covered with food deserts. A food desert, in case you’ve been living on the moon, is an area where large amounts of people live without access to fresh food (ex. fresh vegetables) but instead have plenty of access to large amounts or processed food (ex. soda and frozen pizza). It doesn’t take a nutritionist to recognize that having access to healthy food is going to be a key to fixing the problem of hunger in our county.
So, what can be done? It was during my 2014 civic engagement project with Leadership Palm Beach County that I was exposed to the concept of gleaning for the first time. Turns out, It’s a concept from the Old Testament that local farmers still employ -- allowing people into their field to pick fresh food after the initial harvest is completed. My team was amazed to learn that so much quality produce is often turned down because it doesn’t meet a certain grade. It’s either too big or too small to sell easily, but it’s still healthy delicious food. These farmers want to feed people, and local people are hungry. I was hooked!
During my civic engagement project, we focused on mangoes, gleaning over 15,000 pounds of fresh fruit, from tall shady trees in Lantana. Then we headed to Loxahatchee and got sore backs as we picked 4,000 pounds of green peppers in four hours. Picking up speed, we jumped on a field of radishes that we found on Agriculture Day during the LPBC program. Our tour guide told me as I was biting into radish the size of a small apple that the crop was too large to sell. (Chomp, Gulp, Slurp) “We’ve got you covered,” I said. Later, we learned about Line Gleaning and my LPBC alumni and friend Sue Eusepi single-handedly rescued over 2,000 pounds of fresh star fruit, which were delivered to food pantries all over the county.
A few weeks ago, I came back, this time to a beautiful field of sweet corn in Canal Point in the Glades. That day, we collected 17,000 pounds of gleaned corn that went to dozens of agencies throughout Palm Beach County that feed the poor! (I may have taken a few home, too!) LPBC Interim Executive Director, Dan Porter was there, as was County Commissioner, Melissa McKinlay. Later that afternoon, I spoke with a local farmer who told me that this past season was a big one for corn. “Farmers just had more corn than they could sell.”
I can’t speak for farmers, but we have residents in our county who work hard, and still have trouble accessing healthy food. That’s something we just can’t ignore. I think gleaning is a key to fixing the problem.
I’m truly glad LPBC helped me get involved.
Want to get involved as well? Contact Keith Cutshall at CROS Ministries, firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-233-9009 x107. Tell him the LPBC 2014 Mango team sent you!