YARMOUTH — Gleaning is an age-old practice that’s been gaining ground in recent years as food assistance programs seek to provide healthier, more nutritious options for their clients.

The Cumberland County Food Security Council recently received a $25,000 grant to help expand its gleaning program, which provides access to fresh fruits and vegetables to about 12 different local food aid organizations.

The grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund will help the food council purchase a small pickup truck to increase the amount of gleaned produce it can harvest, according to Colleen Donlan, the organization’s gleaning coordinator.

She said the grant would also be used to invest in new cold storage, which will help keep the produce that’s gleaned from area farms fresh longer.

Donlan said the council’s gleaning program leads to less food waste on farms by harvesting fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be left in the field. And, she said, it also helps “increase access to nutritious, local food for low-income community members.”

“While gleaning can recover fresh produce and provide someone in need healthy food, it does not solve the problems of food waste or hunger,” said Jim Hanna, executive director of the food council.

“ We have to fix a broken economy that allows deprivation of basic needs like food; (only) then will we be on our way to a just and sustainable food system that nourishes everyone.”

Through the first couple years of the initiative, Donlan said the food council has gleaned more than 15,000 pounds of produce, valued at $27,000, from seven area farms.

The farms include Replenova Farm in Portland, Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, Two Farmers Farm in Scarborough, Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport and Bumbleroot Organic Farm in Windham.

She said the food council also works with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Maine Gleaning Network, among others, which provide expertise and food distribution help.

The food council “hopes to significantly increase the amount of produce redirected from fields to organizations working with low-income populations,” according to the council’s website.

With help from the grant, Donlan said the council would like to create more partnerships with food assistance programs across Cumberland County, as well as farms or suppliers willing to donate produce that otherwise would remain unharvested.

She also said the food council could always use more volunteers, and an orientation seminar will be held May 30 at 5:30 p.m. at Avesta Housing, 409 Cumberland Ave., Portland. Call 939-3854 or email [email protected] for more information.

Karen Voci, president of the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, said she hopes the grant to the council will be used to “mobilize the local community … to grow, glean and provide more free, fresh produce for low-income families, creating a movement of neighbors feeding neighbors.”

“Helping families eat in healthier ways, and encouraging support for food system improvements, we believe will lead to healthier people and healthier communities,” she added.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

In the past two years, the gleaning initiative at the Cumberland County Food Security Council has harvested more than 15,000 pounds of produce that would have otherwise remained in the fields.

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