The Suncoast Gleaning Project

Photos by Michael Short.

Photos by Michael Short.

In the five months since they started, the Suncoast Gleaners have harvested over 15,000 pounds of produce from Jessica’s Organic Farm in Sarasota. I am so proud to see our community’s nonprofit organizations, farmers, and motivated individuals come together to support community food security. It’s so wonderful it warms my heart. The Suncoast Gleaning Project is a collaboration of four non-profits: The Rotary Club of Sarasota, All Faiths Food Bank (A.F.F.B.), Transition Sarasota, and the Peace Education and Action Center. Under the guidance of a project coordinator, ordinary individuals from all over Sarasota come together just about every Monday morning at Jessica’s, from 9 to 11 a.m. The volunteers harvest “old” or blemished produce, package it, and load up A.F.F.B. trucks with hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of pounds of super fresh produce to be distributed through its network of nonprofit partners. On delivery day, at the site of distribution, people in need are given access to something that is simply not in their budget: fresh, local, organic produce.

This project has inspired Don Hall, of Transition Sarasota. He had so much faith that this project would work in Sarasota, and strove with all the partners and volunteers to get it in gear. He likes to say it’s a “win-win-win-win situation” for everyone involved... and it very obviously is. Our neighbors have equal access to super fresh local produce, the food banks do not have to rely exclusively on long-term shelf-stable (and often heavily processed) food donations, the farmers are compensated through tax deductions they receive for the donated produce, and (ATTENTION: prospective volunteers) volunteers go home with a shopping bag full of produce in appreciation for their time!

With barely three months left, they are nearing the end of the Southwest Florida growing season. If it were up to me, I would say the “pilot” year has already been an overwhelming success. Our local farms are becoming a more central part of our community, which means our community is thriving in one of the most sensible ways one can genuinely thrive. As the pilot growing season comes to an end, the Suncoast Gleaners will be looking for a new project manager (Apply Now!) and other farms with which to expand their operations. If you are interested in learning more or want to volunteer, check out their website: transitionsrq.org/gleaning. If you don’t have time to volunteer, continue to financially support your local farmers and nonprofits.