With new website and solutions, NH Gleans fights waste and food insecurity

  • NH Gleans volunteers follow farmer Dan Kilrain to pick leftover snap peas at Work Song Farm in Hopkinton last week.  ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Snap peas sit in a basket during a NH Gleans collection at Work Song Farm in Hopkinton last week. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • NH Gleans Merrimack region coordinator Alyssa Lemmermann picks snap peas last week. NH Gleans Merrimack region coordinator Alyssa Lemmermann picks snap peas last week.

  • Lemmermann, left, her co-worker Steve Cook, center right, volunteer Donna Catanzaro of Sutton, left, and Roz Leveine of Hopkinton, center, glean snap peas last week.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • NH Gleans recruits volunteers to harvest leftover produce and divert that extra food to those who need it most. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Snap peas waiting to be picked sit in a basket at Work Song Farm last week.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Hopkinton resident and NH Gleans volunteer Roz Leveine gleans snap peas last week.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/30/2016 12:36:32 AM

Harvesting the leftover grains, fruits and vegetables in farmers’ fields goes back millennia, but in 2016, people in New Hampshire are signing up online to do it.

NH Gleans, a network trying to both reduce wasted produce and food insecurity, launched a new website this summer. By going to NHGleans.org, anyone can sign up and volunteer to pick extra blueberries or lettuce, gather unwanted apples or rooting up unused carrots, which are then destined for local food pantries, soup kitchens and senior centers.

At Work Song Farm in Hopkinton last week, two women signed up to help collect snap peas. On a hot Friday morning, they were greeted in the barn by Alyssa Lemmermann, the Merrimack County Conservation District program coordinator and region organizer for NH Gleans.

Steve Cook, Lemmermann’s co-worker, was there to help, too.

Lemmermann has had between one and three volunteers for the half dozen gleans she’s done this summer. She’s been by herself, too, though she added, “It’s been really helpful with the new website we have.”

She was lucky to have company last Friday, since picking snap peas is an admittedly tedious process. Lemmermann, Cook, and the two volunteers, Donna Catanzaro of Sutton and Roz Leveine of Hopkinton, all approached Work Song Farm’s field, filing in either side of a row of tangled-looking vines. Nestled in each bunch were dozens of snap peas, waiting to be found and snapped off.

The gleaners were able to escape the summer sun in the barn, where they stood surrounded by baskets overflowing with green. There, both of the volunteers explained why they wanted to spend two hours of their morning sorting through crops.

Leveine said she was inspired by Agnes Varda’s documentary The Gleaners and I, a film about people who glean in both rural and urban environments in France.

“I was just taken by this movie and I’ve always wanted to do it,” she said. “I’m doing it for other people who can’t always get out and don’t.”

Catanzaro said she learned about the concept of gleaning in a local newspaper, and wanted to give it a try.

“I thought it was a great idea,” she said. “I had no idea food was wasted on farms. I signed up on the website, and here I am.”

Once their baskets were full of snap peas, Lemmermann and her helpers sent them off to Community Action Program supported programs at Horseshoe Pond Place senior center and Concord Area Center food pantry.

Lemmermann said she delivers what is gathered during gleans from the trunk of her car to various programs offering food to the hungry.

“Depending on the arrangement they have they’re able to integrate it with their prepared meals,” Lemmermann said.

She added that though farmers have the option to simply feed leftover crops to their animals, there’s a better way to utilize the food – and a better way to save them labor.

“A lot of the time the farmers want food to go to people but don’t have the capacity to get it there,” Lemmermann said. Through NH Gleans, however, just over 114,000 pounds of food were saved, and this year, the total is already over 22,000 pounds.

“This is such a great way to make people aware of a solution,” Lemmermann said.

NH Gleans not only goes into fields, but gathers extra food at the end of farmers markets and at CSA drop-offs. The network, said Lemmermann, encourages different ways to divert unused food to those who need it. Franklin, for instance, has harvest boxes placed across the city for gardeners to drop off extra cucumbers or squash for others to take.

“We would love to normalize this as something everyone can view as a sustainable alternative,” Lemmermann said.

For now, NH Gleans is trying to grow its network. About 20 farms and gardeners participate in the Merrimack County region, and with the new website up, volunteers are on the rise.

“Things are gaining momentum for us,” Lemmermann said. “It’s an exciting time.”

At Work Song Farm, farmers Dan and Abby Kilrain have been involved with NH Gleans since the effort began three years ago.

“We had kind of been struggling to find places, outlets to bring our extra stuff that we were just going to be throwing out,” Dan Kilrain said. “That just worked out really well.”

The recipients, too, are grateful.

“Food pantries are so excited when they see me pull up with vegetables popping out of my windows,” Lemmermann said,

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306,ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)

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