Cass County plans to launch gleaning program this year
FARGO — This summer, volunteers will fan out over select Cass County farms seeking unharvested produce for donation to area charities under a plan Fargo Cass Public Health is developing.
The practice, called gleaning, happens now but not in any systematic way, said Kim Lipetzky, a nutritionist overseeing the program. The goal is to develop such a system, including a website that will link volunteers to farmers and to charities, she said.
The Public Health Department is using a $20,000 state grant to do so, including hiring a new gleaning coordinator, Janice Tweet, for the nine months between now and the end of harvest season. Fargo city commissioners gave the go ahead to hire her at their Tuesday, Jan. 2, meeting.
Gleaning is an ancient practice of collecting crops that farmers can't or won't harvest. Today's farmers may not harvest certain crops because the cost of harvesting the crops might be higher than the price at market, or the quality of the crops don't meet buyer standards, according gleaning advocates. But the crops themselves are perfectly edible.
Lipetzky said gleaning reduces food waste, increases food security and provides nutritious fresh produce to those that might not be able to afford it.
Some organizations in the region already practice gleaning. Great Plains Food Bank, for example, will send volunteers if farmers offer produce. A Valley City farmer grows food specifically for donation but requires volunteers to help harvest it.
Though there are few details about Cass County's gleaning program available — Tweet just started the job — Lipetzky said she envisions starting with a small group of area farms of different sizes as well as community gardens; she said Public Health has specific farms in mind and have been in talks with them. Similarly, there would be a small group of charities of different sizes, including food banks and soup kitchens, she said.
Tweet will look at gleaning programs around the country for inspiration and solutions to potential problems, such as liability that farms may face if volunteers are injured while gleaning, she said.
The idea is to start small as a pilot program and, if it works as planned, help others replicate that success, she said.