The creation of Feeding America West Michigan is rooted in carrots. Back in 1980, Rev. Don Eddy called a meeting to discuss the idea of a West Michigan agency resembling Gleaners Community Food Bank in Detroit. This idea sparked when Eddy saw a truckload of perfectly good carrots being composted on a farm in Grant. That day, he asked the farmers to stop dumping and told them that he knew a lot of people at risk of hunger who could really benefit from the carrots.
In 1981, Feeding America West Michigan was founded as West Michigan Gleaners, Inc. From the very beginning of our organization’s history, gleaning was a central component of its work to end hunger.
Today, Feeding America West Michigan still makes use of food we glean from local farms. While there are now many other avenues in which the organization gathers food, gleaning—when food bank staff and volunteers go directly to farmers’ fields to harvest crops that would otherwise not be utilized—continues to play a part in increasing food security and eliminating food waste.
One recent gleaning opportunity took place at Heffron farms, where Feeding America West Michigan volunteers harvested pickling cucumbers. About 5,000 pounds were gleaned, and these cucumbers were quickly distributed by Mobile Pantries—giving neighbors facing hunger the opportunity to enjoy farm-fresh vegetables.
Another opportunity to glean took place at the Riveridge orchard, where volunteers from Farm Bureau and Sam’s Club came together to pick apples from trees that were on their third round of harvest. According to the workers at Riveridge, the apples from this orchard normally go into grocery stores, but due to a bountiful year, there were extra that they were not going to sell. Volunteers gleaned 17,627 pounds of Gala and Red Delicious apples, which in turn gave many neighbors facing hunger access to seasonal, fresh fruit. Situations like these are great opportunities for farmers to connect with Feeding America West Michigan so that perfectly good produce is not left to waste.
There are many more examples of how gleaned produce has been utilized by Feeding America West Michigan, from cherries to lettuce and more! Farm-fresh foods continue to be beneficial for fulfilling our commitment to nourishing our neighbors experiencing hunger.