What if you could combat food waste and hunger at the same time? That’s one of the goals of the Maryland Food Bank’s Farm to Food Bank initiative. Started in 2011, the program sends volunteers to collect excess produce from local farms and distributes it to area food banks—giving families in need access to fresh food that can often be expensive, and enabling farmers to put their extra products to good use. As coordinator Amy Cawley puts it, “This program is a win for the farmer, the food bank, and the people receiving the food.”
One of the approximately 50 current Farm to Food Bank partners in Maryland is Quarter Acre Farm, located in Greensboro. Along with organic garlic, peppers, heirloom tomatoes, and sweet potatoes, farmer-owner Andrea Davis-Cetina grows an impressive 15 different types of cherry tomatoes there. With the end of Maryland’s tomato season approaching fast, the farm found itself with plenty of excess product, and Davis-Cetina had been looking for gleaners—people to collect extra product after harvesting—to help her out: “Gleaning is so beneficial to farmers because it provides the labor to get surplus produce out of the field,” she explained. But it can be costly in terms of time and resources, which are sometimes in short supply on small farms. A customer at a farmer’s market told Davis-Cetina about the Farm to Food Bank program; since she first reached out to them, the program’s volunteers have made two visits to her farm.
Last week, CAIC Social Media Director Pam Foulke joined a half dozen other Maryland Food Bank volunteers at Quarter Acre Farm for an afternoon of cherry tomato gleaning. There, the group picked any ripe tomatoes they found, disposed of rotten ones, and left the green, still-growing ones on the vine. Without the extra vegetation in their way, those tomatoes will have a better chance of actually ripening—yet another benefit of gleaning.
At the end of the afternoon, the group had picked an impressive 120 pounds of cherry tomatoes. With almost all of them going directly to the Vienna-based MidShore Meals Til Monday, a nonprofit that works to provide children in Dorchester County with nutritious weekend food options, it was a perfect way to celebrate the end of Maryland’s tomato season!
You can watch a video of the gleaning here. (And for more tomato content, check back next week, when members of the CAIC team will share some of their favorite recipes.)