BRUNSWICK — Maine Gleaning Week kicked off Wednesday with the goal of drawing volunteers to harvest excess produce from local farms to distribute to people struggling with food insecurity.

The Maine Gleaning Network, a coalition of 10 volunteer groups that do the harvesting, is celebrating Maine Gleaning Week through next Wednesday.

Since its formation in 2016, The Merrymeeting Gleaners has donated over 120,000 pounds of food, 35,000 pounds of which came from Growing to Give, a program based out of Scatter Good Farm in Brunswick. Everything grown at Scatter Good Farm is donated.

“We donate gleaned produce to food banks, housing authorities, health clinics and backpack programs,” said Kelley Davis, a Merrymeeting Gleaners coordinator. “Food is getting to people within hours of being harvested.”

Some of the produce is also placed on Sharing Tables, which are tables piled high with fresh produce in public locations at a set time in Bath, Brunswick, Arrowsic, Harpswell, Topsham and Bowdoin. The fresh fruits and veggies are free for the taking, with no forms to fill out, nothing to sign and no one to ask personal questions.

“(The Sharing Tables are) completely anonymous, so people who aren’t comfortable with going to a food bank but are food insecure can get the food they need,” Davis said.

Davis said there is no way to track how many people use the Sharing Tables, as the program is anonymous by design, but the group sees a growing need for free produce in the Midcoast.

According to a 2017 report from the Good Shepherd Food Bank and Preble Street, the Portland homeless shelter and food program, 13.4 percent of people in Sagadahoc County are food insecure, which is relatively low compared to Washington County and in Aroostook County, which have the state’s highest food insecurity rates of 17.2 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively.

In Maine, roughly 126,000 adults, or one in every eight, and 47,000 children, one in five, struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending food insecurity in the United States.

Rebecca McConnaughey, a Merrymeeting Gleaner and Scatter Good Farm employee, said a lot of food grown at farms ends up being plowed back into the soil rather than feeding those who need it most.

“It’s deeply rewarding and a wonderful way to build community because everyone needs to eat and eat in a healthy way,” McConnaughey said.

Growing to Give was co-founded by Theda Lyden, a former organic market gardener and executive chef, and John Newlin and wife Patty Carton, who moved to Scatter Good Farm 2002. Carton said establishing the organization felt natural, as both she and Newlin have experience in nonprofit work.

“I think everyone appreciates how expensive food is, let alone organic food,” Carton said. “The income disparity is just growing, and growing so people who can’t afford even non-organic food still aren’t eating great food because they’re just eating what they can afford.”

Carol Gillespie, a team leader for Merrymeeting Gleaners, began volunteering as a way to do something she enjoys while making a positive change in her community.

“I enjoy being outside and gardening, and I also like helping people, so it’s a win-win,” Gillespie said.

On Wednesday, the first day of Maine Gleaning Week, volunteers at Scatter Good Farm harvested spinach, carrots, turnips, and tomatoes, to name a few crops.

“We chose October because there’s usually an abundance of produce to harvest,” Davis said. “We also always end (Maine Gleaning Week) on World Food Day, which is the 16th of October.”

World Food Day celebrates the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1945. The organization promotes worldwide awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure healthy diets for all.

Anyone interested in volunteering can email [email protected]

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