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Using extra farm-fresh produce to help feed Mainers in need

Gleaning is a concept that's been around since biblical times, but these days it's taken on a new meaning.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — It's harvest time in Maine. Farmers and gardeners from all over the state will likely be working from sun up to sun down to get the crops picked before frost takes them. For many, it is a race against time, but for gleaners, it's a race to feed the hungry.

Gathering extra food from farms and gardens to give to those in need is a growing movement in Maine one that requires dedicated volunteers.
Friday, gleaning got a big boost from a company that at one point might have been considered a competitor but is now a partner in the fight against hunger.

Julia Nelson is a gleaning coordinator for Mid Coast Hunger Prevention. She is leading a huge group of volunteers as they harvest at scattering Good Farms Growing to Give, a nonprofit that grows food to give it away.  

"We hear from our recipients that, particularly during COVID, this has been a lifeline for a lot of folks," she said.

But the gleaners visit for-profit farms as well, to harvest crops that would otherwise be left in the field.

"It's important to us that farmers make a living and don't give away something they were going to sell," Frank Wertheim, an executive educator for the Maine Harvest for Hunger Program.

Wertheim said he's proud of the 3 million-plus pounds of food the group has harvested and distributed to people in need since its inception 21 years ago.

"The quality is amazing. It's organic, local and it just tastes better," Nelson said. "With it being gleaned fresh, recipients can make this produce last for a week whereas the produce that usually comes in needs to be cooked right away."

The food that comes from area grocery stores, such as Hannaford, is, of course, a staple on food pantry shelves. 

"We now have zero waste at Hannaford. In fact, at some stores, we lock the dumpster to make sure that we are giving back to people in need," Bob Hatem, Hannaford's Director of Operation for Mid Coast Maine, said

In that spirit, Hannaford is donating a different kind of green: $60,000 to the Maine Harvest for Hunger Program to expand gleaning efforts.  

Hatem said at one time, grocery stores might have considered local farmers a competitor, but now they are partners. By helping local farms feed the hungry, it's fostering a growing sense of community.


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