CONCEPTION JUNCTION, Mo. — A new group in the Kansas City area wants to give away 1.5 million pounds of fresh produce by the end of the year and volunteers are combing fields in the heartland, gleaning growers’ leftovers for the hungry.
Leading the non-profit After the Harvest organization are a group of advocates who, beginning in 2008, oversaw the regional operations of a similar organization, the Society of St. Andrew.
“Over the past year, we have come to believe that we would be more successful in our mission if we could do it locally — as a locally based organization serving our community,” executive director Lisa Ousley said in a letter to donors this summer.
The new group is based in the Kansas City, Mo., offices of the nationwide Harvesters Community Food Network. After the Harvest opened in mid-May and immediately began gleaning fresh fruits and vegetables from growers in Missouri and Kansas.
Ousley said getting fresh produce into the hands of the estimated one in seven “food insecure” people in the region is the group’s singular goal. After the Harvest works with a variety of food pantries and other hunger relief programs to distribute produce. About 28% of such programs did not have enough food to meet demand in 2013, according to the Hunger in America 2014 report by the Feeding America organization.
After the Harvest also takes donations from all points in the supply chain. Whether it’s a pallet of potatoes from a restaurateur who ordered too much or a bushel of peaches that a retailer culled because of slight bruising, After the Harvest picks up and distributes unwanted produce.
“After the Harvest will also work with large-volume produce packers and distributers to get truckloads of excess and graded out produce to distribute to area agencies that feed the hungry,” Ousley said.
“After the Harvest will access fresh, often locally grown, produce that’s not pretty enough to sell but still perfectly good to eat, and get it to Harvesters and its agencies to feed people who are going hungry.”
Working with Ousley at After the Harvest is program director Karin Page, who was in a similar capacity at the regional Society of St. Andrew operation.
Page said the organization would like more donations of culls from packers. After the Harvest will pay transportation costs, reimburse donors for packaging costs and provide tax documents so the donated culls can be used as tax write-offs, she said. For a semi-trailer load of culls, After the harvest usually pays about $5,000 in transportation and packaging costs.
Of course field gleaning remains a popular form of donations, especially for one grower about 90 miles northeast of Kansas City, Mo.
Martin and Lisa Goedken have been growing various produce near Conception Junction, Mo., since 1973. They were never out to become a corporate farm and haven’t. They have however supplied watermelons, cantaloupe, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes and other commodities to area retailers, including Hy-Vee, for decades.
One crop they thought would be a money maker has been a complete dud, though it has produced a half a million pounds of food for hungry people in the past 18 years and is expected to come in at a record 40,000 pounds by the end of this season.
“A professor up at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville named Dr. Chang wanted to get asian pears established as a commodity in Missouri,” Lisa Goedken said Sept. 6 as volunteers gleaned her orchard. “We’d never heard of them but we decided to give them a try.”
With the help from academia, the growers got samplings in 1990 and had 400 fruit-bearing trees by 1995-96.
“The flavor was exceptional, but no one knew what they were,” Lisa Goedken said. “No one wanted to buy them so we decided to donate the whole crop and have every year since.”
Martin Goedken said he believes there was a greater plan in play for the asian pears.
“I truly believe we were meant to grow them to give them to hungry people,” said Goedken.
Volunteers working for After the Harvest are spending five consecutive Saturday mornings to help harvest the Goedken’s asian pears. A dietetics/nutrition student from Northwest Missouri State University, Melinda Kelsey, helped glean Sept. 6. Kelsey said she was particularly pleased to be volunteering on a project that was matching hungry people with fresh fruit from their home region. She said her studies have given her new insight into the importance of fresh produce in maintaining good health.
Another volunteer gleaner, Sandy Deatley, said she has seen firsthand how fresh fruits and vegetables help programs such as neighbor2neighbor Inc., where she is a case worker.