Maine’s Downeast region is characterized by significant levels of poverty and food insecurity. In Washington County, 19.4% of residents and 31.2% of children are living in poverty, and 28.8% of children are food insecure. In Hancock County, 13.2% of residents and 19.3% of children are living in poverty, and 23.7% of children are food insecure. (U.S. Census 2012, Maine Kids Count, 2013, Feeding America.) Healthy Acadia partners with the region’s community meal sites and food pantries, or Food Security Organizations (FSO’s) to provide a significant boost in the nutritional quality and quantity of food that they are able to distribute to their clients through the Downeast Gleaning Initiative.
Gleaning is the simple act of collecting quality food that would otherwise go to waste and redistributing it to benefit the common good. It is a multi-faceted approach that reaches many audiences simultaneously, including FSO’s, providing a significant boost in the nutritional quality and quantity of food that they are able to distribute to their clients.
Through the Downeast Gleaning Initiative, Healthy Acadia, in partnership with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, works to address food insecurity in the region. We cooordinate gleaning opportunities throughout Hancock and Washington Counties, connecting volunteers with farms, orchards, farmers’ markets, and other food producers and vendors to collect food that would otherwise go to waste. We then manage distribution of the collected food to community meal sites and FSO’s.
Since 2010, the Downeast Gleaning Initiative has collected and redistributed over 80,000 pounds of food throughout Hancock and Washington counties. We have developed new relationships with more than thirty farms and engaged over 200 community volunteers in the program. Our Gleaning Coordinators have established occasional and regular distribution systems with the fifteen food security organizations of the Hancock County Food Security Network, as well as the ten food security organizations of the Washington County Food Pantry Network. Our efforts have contributed to statewide appreciation and adoption of gleaning as a strategy towards improving healthy food access.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has coordinated the Maine Harvest for Hunger Program in Hancock County since 2006, recruiting and training Master Gardener Volunteers to grow and donate food to their local FSOs. In 2010, additional organizations working to address hunger in our communities came together to harvest apples from Johnston’s Pick Your Own Orchard in Ellsworth, starting a yearly tradition of gathering an average of 3,500 pounds each fall and distributing them to the Hancock County Food Security Network.
In 2012, Healthy Acadia, in partnership with the city of Ellsworth, was awarded a Community Development Block Grant to expand the Gleaning Program, enabling us to hire a Hancock County Gleaning Coordinator and significantly increase our efforts in spring of 2013. We have since expanded the program to Washington County with great success.
Funding for the Gleaning Initiative has generously been provided by Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, Quimby Family Foundation, Anew Foundation, Larry Flood, EMHS, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Broad Reach Fund, USDA SARE, United Way of Eastern Maine and a Community Development Block Grant with support from the City of Ellsworth and the Hancock County Planning Commission.
Our community farmers are working hard to make food accessible and available to their communities on a daily basis. Sometimes they need the extra support to go the last mile and make donations of what is no longer of commercial value to them, to those who are in need of food. Gleaning allows farmers to create mutually beneficial relationships with community members and institutions through an organized distribution system.
As a volunteer-based program, the Downeast Gleaning Initiative strives to serve as a professionalized service for farmers seeking community connections. Our gleaning team and pool of volunteers often provide labor, transportation and marketing on behalf of farmers. In turn, many farmers are willing to harvest and distribute what we are not able to get to with volunteers. Our experience is that generosity breeds common interests, and that the more gleaning farmers allow, the more return they get for their hard work; the more return they get, the more they donate food; it is a win-win situation!
Downeast Gleaning Initiative volunteers have the opportunity to work with Hancock County and Washington County Gleaning Coordinators to establish sustainable gleaning systems in their communities. Activities include:
- working with food producers to harvest or collect surplus food,
- delivering fresh produce to food pantries and community meal sites,
- supporting the market relations and food access needs of the local food system by providing occasional labor, marketing and transportation services to farmers,
- providing administrative support through our Hancock or Washington county office
Volunteer contributions can also include more loosely-defined roles, such as supporting the coordination of community gleaning volunteer teams. Gleaning volunteers can expect to give between 2 and 4 hours of their time per week, according to individual availability and the seasonal needs of the program.
The Downeast Gleaning Initiative offers a rich learning experience for students of all ages, providing interactions with professional farmers, markets and community gardens, as well as an introduction to creative food waste prevention, management and reduction. It's a great option for schools, colleges and other groups seeking volunteer opportunities as part of community service or service learning programs. We welcome your participation on a regular or one-time basis, any time of the year. Summer is a busy time for gleaning, but winter can be exciting too!
Through gleaning we hope volunteers will develop new skills, increase their personal satisfaction and broaden their community relationships. If you are a current or past volunteer with the Downeast Gleaning Initiative, please take a moment to complete our volunteer evaluation form so we can better measure the social value of gleaning and continue to improve the experience of our volunteers.
To volunteer, please visit our Gleaning Initiative page on Facebook and click on the "Sign Up" button, or call/email us at the contact information below.
Hannah Semler, Hancock County Gleaning Program
(o) 207-667-7171 (c) 207-812-8265
Regina Grabrovac, Washington County Gleaning Program
Katie Freedman, Food Programs Director
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Marjorie Peronto, Extension Educator
Maine Harvest for Hunger & Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator
Video: Save the Food (NRDC and National Ad Council)
Video: Expired (NRDC and National Ad Council)