It's hard to believe it's been a month since the last day of our Farmers' Market at the Garden 2012 season. True to form, my eating habits have spiraled downhill now that I'm not faced with a market full of fresh, local produce every Wednesday. And my husband's "refrigerator blindness" is compounded by the fact that I am hoarding bags upon bags of frozen peas, corn, and okra in our freezer.
Yet, even as I wrestle with my avalanche of frozen bounty, I realize how lucky I am to have access to the freshest, tastiest, healthiest foods available...not everyone is so fortunate.
This year, however, something amazing happened at our market...the "gleaners" arrived.
I received a phone call from Tonia Anderson, W. TN Gleaning Coordinator for The Society of St. Andrew, asking if we'd mind having volunteers visit with our vendors at the end of each market day to see if they had produce that they weren't going to sell, and to collect items for distribution to area food pantries. She assured me that the process would be discreet and wouldn't create any additional workload for us or our vendors...and boy was she RIGHT! Quite honestly, I didn't even notice that they were here (every single week, I might add) until well into the season, when Rosemary Breithaupt, a Youth Education instructor here at the Garden, approached me and showed me how much she had collected that day.
Rosemary shared her experience from the final market day:
had stopped to tug at the big blue plastic
basket, bungee-corded onto my luggage cart, when I sighted the tree frog, bright-BRIGHT-green,
2” long, suction-cup feet easily climbing the smooth metal tent pole.
A delighted young girl and her mom watched the
green acrobat as it jumped onto a table display and zoomed around small
cardboard boxes of produce.
I glean for the Society of St. Andrew, accepting
blemished, soft, slightly-wilted produce donated by the farmers. Food they
can’t sell is saved from the compost pile and driven to a nearby Food Pantry, where, the next day, it will be welcomed by
people who need a little help putting food on their dinner plates. This time we
collected turnip greens, tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, arugula, and other salad
greens. Farmers understand the importance of fresh food and I know sometimes
they generously toss a little extra into our basket."
As the 2012 market season ended, I wondered just how successful they had been...then I received an email from Tonia with these stats:
- 15 different volunteers gleaned the market every
week between opening day and closing last Wednesday, except when the
market was closed on July 4th.
- 18 different vendors donated 4977 pounds
of produce, bread, and prepared foods, including: Bennett-Burks, Boulangerie Olivier, Boys & Girls Club, Fletcher
Farms, Flora Gardens, Gray's Veggies, Green Frog Berry Farm, Jesse Harris
Produce, Jones Orchard, Lady Bugg Bakery, Long's Orchard, Pontotoc Ridge
Berry Farm, Richardson's Vegetable Farm, St. Bethany's Fresh, Whitton
Farms, Windermere Farms, Yang Farm, and Va Vang's Homegrown Produce.
- 2 different agencies were served: St. John's
United Methodist's Food Ministry Program (including their food pantry and
soup kitchen) and the United Methodist Neighborhood Center.
- In Shelby County, we gleaned a total of 30,317 pounds
of food from April through October, primarily at farmers' markets around
town. We saw some of the vendors at multiple markets, and some of
yours, for instance, may not have been able to give on a particular week
at the Botanic Garden but gave on other days at other markets.
Wow! I knew the concept sounded great, but how wonderful that it has been so successful! Memphis Botanic Garden launched our Farmers' Market at the Garden six years ago, as an extension of our mission to connect people with nature. We hoped it would help local growers continue their agricultural lifestyle and offer increased accessibility to fresh, local produce in the Mid-South community. This year, the dedicated folks at the Society of St. Andrew have taken that to a new level.
For more info on market gleaning, visit: endhunger.org or contact Tonia Anderson, email@example.com.
-Jana Wilson, Director of Marketing/PR at Memphis Botanic Garden