It is difficult to imagine what a total of 42,000 pounds of potatoes look like but to put it in perspective, they would fill a regular size tractor trailer.
The NRV Glean Team has been providing the work and support to supply area non-profit food pantries with this essential staple of potatoes, as well as other fresh vegetables and fruit, for several years. They “glean” through accepting and delivering vegetables that are leftover from farms and are protectively stored.
On Friday, Nov. 10, a team of approximately 75 volunteers gathered at the Montgomery County Christmas Store to divide these root-based vegetables into carts. New River Valley organizations that run food banks will be filling the needs of hungry NRV community members for the upcoming holiday seasons.
“We had requests from 30 different food banks, and we told them how many pounds that they could expect to get when they got here, and we are putting those in piles with their names on it, for example Beans and Rice, “organizer and food-grower John Galbraith said. “We actually aren’t distributing to individuals here but are the middlemen between the farmers in Maine and food banks.”
On Friday, team members from various organizations pulled into the parking lot and NRV Glean members assisted in loading their vehicles. Some Glean members had raised additional winter squash, along with some apples that the team was able to pick up, so those would be distributed as well.
Bringing potatoes from Maine, grown in the summer months, may sound like a daunting task but the coordination of the farmers, the Glean members, and the organizations working together have seen a great success in the project.
“We lose about 1%, so 99% of them look just like in the store,” Galbraith said.
The team, many of whom are NRV Master Gardeners, have previously coordinated with a variety of organizations and individuals across the region to grow more fresh food for area citizens in Southwest Virginia. According to an article at www.nrvmastergardeners.com, locations at the Turfgrass Research Center, Virginia Tech’s Urban Horticulture Center, and St. Mary’s Catholic Church are some of the locations that have assisted in the increase of food provided to families in need. Additionally, small farms and area residents growing smaller gardens have given vegetables or space to the cause.
The potato drop-off occurs twice a year, each time bringing in a trailer full of potatoes.
“Once in November, before Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then we do it again during the food desert time of the year, which is usually February,” Galbraith said.
According to Galbraith, the Society of St. Andrews contracts with the farmers in Maine to bring the shipment to the New River Valley. This provides an opportunity for the farmers to donate the extra harvest to distribution points like the one in Christiansburg, Virginia.
Feeding America is another program that provides food for low-income families and those in need, but they must meet eligibility requirements to do so. The NRV Glean Team fills in the gaps of those community organizations that are lacking in support.
Volunteers are always needed throughout the year and interested parties can find a variety of ways to help. Current volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds such as Virginia Tech University students, faith-based organizations, individual growers, or anyone that just wants to lend a hand.
Contact information for John Galbraith and the NRV Glean Team can be found at their Facebook page or at https://stmarysblacksburg.org/glean-team.