Gleaning Event Reaps Benefits

Sarasota resident Kim Northrop loves anything and everything to do with plants - from gardening to cooking or even just talking about them. So, as she picked fresh tomatoes Thursday, May 31, at King Family Farm, she couldn’t help but enjoy it. 

Northrop and other volunteers with the Suncoast Gleaning Pilot Project gleaned several rows of tomato plants, from which they harvested about 30 boxes (1,000 pounds) of tomatoes from King Family Farm for the Food Bank of Manatee. 

“It’s an absolutely perfect example of a public-private partnership,” Northrop said of finding a use for surplus produce that farms are unable to use. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Volunteer Darryl McCullough agreed.

“I’m just trying to make the world a little better place for people who need it,” he said, as he filled boxes with tomatoes.

The Gleaning Project is an initiative of Transition Sarasota, a nonprofit grassroots effort to create sustainable communities. During harvest season, program volunteers visit local farms each week to reap leftover produce, which then is donated to local charities such as All Faiths Food Bank and the Salvation Army, for distribution to needy families. For their efforts, volunteers also get to take home one grocery bag of produce apiece. 

The visit to King Family Farm last week marked the project’s third gleaning event at the farm, located off Caruso Road.

“Gleaning is beneficial for everybody,” said Shelby King, co-owner of King Family Farm. “(This program) helps people in the community see what they can do. (The produce) doesn’t get wasted.”

Transition Sarasota’s Don Hall, coordinator for the Suncoast Gleaning Project, founded the pilot program in October 2010. Through partnership with local farms, volunteers have harvested more than 73,000 pounds of fresh produce for the community since that time.

“More and more people are depending on food banks for food,” Hall said. “Fresh produce is a part of a healthy diet.”

Hall said he hopes next year to expand the Gleaning Project program to include backyard fruit trees. He also is hoping to partner with the Siesta Key Kiwanis Club to do a community fruit-gleaning project, which likely would start next season, he said.

“It struck me how much agricultural waste is out there,” he said. “It’s not that farmers are being wasteful. It’s just farming isn’t an exact (science).”

For more information about the Gleaning Project and Transition Sarasota, visit transitionsrq.org/gleaning.