Garfield County seeks help growing Gleaning Project | PostIndependent.com

Garfield County seeks help growing Gleaning Project

In partnership with UpRoot Colorado, Garfield County and LIFT-UP food banks are looking to grow the Gleaning Project and wants local landowners, orchard owners and producers to donate.

The project, originally a partnership between LiveWell Garfield County (now Garfield Healthy Communities Coalition) and LIFT-UP, provides an opportunity for Garfield County farmers to donate excess produce.

Gleaning, the act of gathering excess crops and providing them to those in need, is among efforts promoted by Garfield County to boost health. Since 2014, it has become one of the simplest and most efficient ways of getting fresh food to the needy.

"We have heard from many of our families that getting fresh produce from our shelves to give their families means so much to them. They appreciate being able to feed their families healthy food," said Kim Loving, executive director of LIFT-UP. "LIFT-UP wants to continue to have fresh fruits and vegetables to hand out to our clients, so collaborations with organizations such as UpRoot and Garfield Healthy Communities Coalition, just to name a few, is very important."

In 2014, LiveWell Garfield County began collecting surplus produce from the public for the benefit of LIFT-UP and the Senior Nutrition Program. From July through October that year, 8,600 pounds of fruits and vegetables were collected, and the Gleaning Project was born. Since 2014, LIFT-UP has received over 43,000 pounds of produce as UpRoot Colorado continues to look for more locals to participate.

"Sometimes we are not able to harvest or find markets for some of our farm products," said Jim Dula with Erin's Acres Farm. "With the help of UpRoot we are able to simultaneously bring community members and volunteers to the farm, ensure all food grown is harvested and consumed, and provide our business with a tax incentive to donate the produce. Working with UpRoot is a benefit to everyone in the community."

Through partnerships with farms and gardens across the county, including Eagle Springs Organic (by far the Gleaning Project's biggest producer), the program feeds hundreds of families throughout Garfield County each year. Of the 43,016 pounds of produce the program has received through its life, 33,796 pounds came from Eagle Springs Organics.

"We do it to give back and help those in need," said Richard Watkins, sales manager at Eagle Springs. "We like that the food stays local."

Watkins explained that the produce that Eagle Springs gives as part of the Gleaning Project is No. 2 vegetables, meaning that there is some blemish that makes them aesthetically displeasing and difficult to sell. Because of this, the food would go to waste or become animal feed if it wasn't donated to LIFT-UP.

“Gleaning is an opportunity to promote food security and local food in our community,” said Ciara Low, organizer with UpRoot Colorado. “Improving access to local produce by supplying hunger relief organizations with fresh fruits and vegetables that otherwise would not be harvested or sold is an opportunity that can benefit everyone in the community.”

Low would like to see more farmers and local gardeners participate in donating food to the Gleaning Project as she hopes to reduce waste in Garfield County.

"Before working with UpRoot, it seemed almost impossible to reserve the time and energy to get unsellables to a good home," said Harper Kaufman, farmer and owner at Two Roots Farm. "I'm so happy UpRoot has come to the valley and provides a valid option for farmers to seamlessly prevent food waste and get fresh food to folks that need it most."

LIFT-UP pantries participated in a statewide survey, according to Loving, and the top two items clients said they are looking for are protein and fresh produce.

"I've been involved with several community gardens in the Roaring Fork Valley and have seen a lot of vegetables go to waste because gardeners plant more than they can eat or don't know when to harvest crops," said Sue Gray, professional gardener in Carbondale. "I believe this excess and unused produce could be collected and distributed to those who don't have access to or resources for fresh vegetables."

Aside from looking for local landowners and producers to donate, LIFT-UP and UpRoot are looking for people to join the volunteer corps to harvest and transport produce.

With the Grand Avenue bridge closing in less than a month, the program will be looking for volunteers who can transport produce west, from Carbondale or Glenwood to Rifle and beyond.

Any farmer or gardener looking to have some of their excess fruits or vegetables gleaned and donated to local food panties like LIFT-UP should contact Low at ciara@uprootcolorado.org to register with UpRoot Colorado. Those looking to volunteer to help harvest and redistribute fresh fruits and vegetables should contact Low as well.