BOB HELLYER, a volunteer with the Merrymeeting Gleaners, loads boxes with produce on Wednesday at Six River Farm in Bowdoinham.

BOB HELLYER, a volunteer with the Merrymeeting Gleaners, loads boxes with produce on Wednesday at Six River Farm in Bowdoinham.

BOWDOINHAM

Members of the Merrymeeting Gleaners volunteer group are working to increase the consumption of local, healthy food in the Midcoast — one radish at a time.

The pilot program, started in 2016 by the Merrymeeting Food Council, sends volunteer gleaners to harvest surplus produce from farms and farmers’ markets and bring it to soup kitchens, food pantries, Head Start and WIC programs. They also bring food to low-income housing communities from Richmond to Bath.

MERRYMEETING GLEANERS volunteers Michelle Rines, left, and Kathie Duncan, both of Woolwich, lug a box of produce.

MERRYMEETING GLEANERS volunteers Michelle Rines, left, and Kathie Duncan, both of Woolwich, lug a box of produce.

The program is made possible by the generosity of local farmers — such as those at Six River Farm, where gleaners collected 14,000 pounds of produce amounting to 17,000 meals last year.

This year, they’ve already collected more than 16,000 pounds.

This week marks the first annual Maine Gleaning Week. To celebrate, a “Glean with a Friend” event was held at Six River Farm on Wednesday, where Merrymeeting Gleaners collected more than 700 pounds of produce including spinach, kale, peppers, beets, broccoli, radishes and Bok Choy in less than two hours.

THE MERRYMEETING GLEANERS collected more than 700 pounds of produce at Six River Farm in Bowdoinham on Wednesday that was delivered to nine organizations including food pantries and Head Start programs. During the event they also christened a new refrigerated food trailer which will allow them to store produce where it can be accessed more conveniently by recipient organizations.

THE MERRYMEETING GLEANERS collected more than 700 pounds of produce at Six River Farm in Bowdoinham on Wednesday that was delivered to nine organizations including food pantries and Head Start programs. During the event they also christened a new refrigerated food trailer which will allow them to store produce where it can be accessed more conveniently by recipient organizations.

Nate Drummond, who owns Six River Farm with his wife Gabrielle Gosselin, said as farmers they are passionate about growing food for people. The gleaner program allows food to reach as many people as possible, which is very important.

“On all farms but certainly on produce farms, there’s a certain amount of inevitable waste because things are highly perishable,” he said. “There’s either overproduction or sales don’t come through or something is not of marketable quality. So for us, that’s sort of a given and the more some of that would-be waste can get diverted to people who can use that food — and particularly when it’s nutritious vegetables — it’s better for everybody.”

There are regular volunteers at Six River Farm every Wednesday from May through November. Drummond meets with the gleaners, goes over what’s available and gives them a map.

“They do everything else,” he said.

Kelly Davis, coordinator for the Merrymeeting Gleaners, said this year the group is also harvesting produce from Goranson Farm in Dresden and Scatter Good Farm in Brunswick, which is a food bank farm. They also glean over the summer from vendors at the Bath Farmers Market and in the winter, from vendors at the Brunswick Winter Market at Fort Andross.

One volunteer gleaning at Goranson Farm this year is Kathie Duncan of Woolwich, a master gardener. A lot of people work really hard to get the food to the people who need it, she said, and the program is growing in a nice way.

When she hears the response from people about the food they receive, it makes her “heart sing,” she said.

“And the generosity of the farmers, it just blows my mind,” Duncan said.

Mary Turner, coordinator of the Food Security Coalition of Mid Coast Maine, said in the seven years she’s done the job, she’s seen a big increase in “really wonderful produce” coming into the food bank.

She works with 14 different food pantries and sees that senior aging is a big issue. The food banks aren’t seeing as many seniors as they would expect, so they’re working on doing outreach to the senior population.

While thinking about more community partners to work with, Turner emphasized that this is a program really meant for people who wouldn’t otherwise purchase this produce. The gleaners are careful not to encroach on the farmers’ market clientele.

Gleaning will continue at least through October and there will also be opportunities to glean during the winter. Anyone interested in volunteering can email [email protected]

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