As the sun starts to return to our dark Fourth Corner, gardeners get busy planting and readying for their healthy crops. But sometimes those crops pop up a bit healthier than usual, or that plum tree produces kilo after kilo of fresh, amazing, and yet, very ripe plums, or the chard goes a bit wild. This over abundance is where Gleaners Pantry steps in. A membership-based nonprofit out of Ferndale, Gleaners Pantry collects your extra kale, your bosc pears, your baskets, and baskets of figs to distribute among their members.
For those considering membership, the application is simple. For $150 a year, three donated non-perishable items (like trash bags or gloves), and six volunteer hours every two months, members receive fresh local produce. The membership payments can be flexible. The member-volunteers administer and run the nonprofit, glean, sort, and box produce, and other tasks. They also receive recipes and information about dehydrating, canning, and other food preservation methods. There is no income qualification process, so anyone can be a member. Run like a co-op, Gleaners Pantry builds a source of fresh produce for those who may have trouble with access to food, and prevents food waste by getting food to the dinner tables of its members. Member Jennifer Meisner said, “The program serves 90 families.” There is a waiting list, according to Meisner, but “Everyone on the waiting list usually gets in.”
For those who may have concerns about physical labor, the application process takes into account the different strengths of volunteers, from communications and office work to farm work. Meisner said, “We have opportunities for disabled people. The elderly can push shopping carts, pregnant women or people who can’t handle heavy loads can do office work and other low-impact work. There are opportunities for everyone.” There are guidelines about how many members of a household can glean. The organization emphasizes community and mutual respect, and respect for the properties and property-owners from which they glean. Gardeners, shopkeepers, and farms who wish to have their produce gleaned can call the organization and set up a schedule. The organization gleans three times a week, which makes for three pick-up times. The times are staggered so that families who have trouble making a morning or a weekday glean can be there on a weekend or evening.
Everything the organization receives is by donation, and most of their budget comes from memberships. “Our membership year begins in May,” Meisner said. “Even animals benefit. As food rots and becomes inedible, we give it to members for farm animals.” Nothing goes to waste. The program rescues an average of 900 pounds a month from local landfills.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which protects co-ops, food banks, and gleaner programs from liability and encourages food donation by grocery stores, farms, and other sources. Lucky for us, Gleaners Pantry has been around for at least fifteen years. As social services face challenges ahead, Gleaners Pantry will be there now and in the future for families in need.
6729 Enterprise Rd., Ferndale