Gleaning program eyes growth in 2015
Following a successful inaugural campaign in 2014, stakeholders with LiveWell Garfield County’s gleaning produce program are gearing up efforts to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to the county’s low-income and underserved populations.
“I think there’s a lot of food that has not yet been discovered that can be put to good use,” said Dana Wood, LiveWell Garfield County director.
The gleaning program — a partnership between LiveWell and LIFT-UP — formed in 2014 amid a growing push to provide healthy foods in Colorado food pantries. At the time, LIFT-UP had a very limited supply of fresh produce, said Kimberly Loving, LIFT-UP executive director. Through partnerships with local farmers markets and others, the gleaning program collected more than 8,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables. Produce poured in from farms and gardens across the county, including Eagle Springs Organic, which donated excess produce to LIFT-UP and several other local organizations.
“We believe there’s a tremendous need, and there’s plenty of people in need,” said Ken Sack, owner of the farm located outside of Rifle, “and they’re better off eating fresh fruits and vegetables than processed food.”
Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, but location and income can pose substantial barriers to accessing quality produce. According to a 2014 Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment report, 61 percent of Colorado’s rural census tracts have no healthy food retail options, which is 2½ times greater than urban tracts. While most adults in Colorado do not meet the recommended level of fruit and vegetable consumption, the same report found that the percentage of adults not meeting the recommended level increases as household income decreases.
When it comes time to make a trip to the grocery store, many lower-income families and individuals opt for cheaper processed foods, but that does not mean there is a lack of demand for healthier options, Loving said. LIFT-UP quickly distributed the 8,600 pounds of fruits and vegetables collected by the gleaning program and donated to the food pantries last year; and there is room to grow, Loving said.
With that in mind, LiveWell Garfield County hopes to collect even more produce in 2015. Wood recently announced that LiveWell Garfield County is partnering with Produce for Pantries, a statewide collaborative effort to increase the supply of fresh produce in food pantries. Several previous contributors, including Glenwood Community Gardens, have committed to increasing contributions in this year. And with Eagle Springs Organic expanding its operation from 15 acres to 130 acres, the farm will likely have 10 times as much produce to donate to local food pantries, Sack said.
One uncertainty, though, remains the involvement of Growing Food Forward, the local nonprofit that assists in the building and planting of gardens for hunger relief. The board started reconsidering the organization’s 2015 goals and projects following the suspension of executive director Kim Wille over financial concerns earlier this year.
When reached by phone, Growing Food Forward Treasurer Timothy Stolley said he needed to consult with fellow board members to get the exact details of the organization’s plans. Shortly after the phone call, an email from Growing Food Forward Board President Andrea Matthews directed questions to Wood of LiveWell Garfield County. Wood said she had been advised not to comment on Growing Food Forward. Asked why the organization was mentioned in a recent press release on the gleaning program, Wood said, “They have been a partner in the past and they’re choosing to take produce and contribute to the overall project.”
The overall gleaning program is much larger than one organization, Wood said, adding that the program has partners everywhere in the county from Carbondale to Parachute. While the program is a work in progress, Wood said she would like to collect enough produce to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to local schools in the future. For now, the focus is on building community support and collecting as much produce as possible.
“The ultimate goal is getting as much produce into the LIFT-UP pantries as we can,” Wood said.
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