NEWCASTLE —  Food insecurity is a big problem, especially in Maine, and the Lincoln County Gleaners is doing its part to help.

Gleaning is the act of collecting excess fresh foods from gardens, farms and markets and distributing it to people in need. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 100 million pounds of food is thrown away each year.

The Lincoln County Gleaners formed last year and distributed almost 6,000 pounds of fresh, local food from five farms, and the volunteer group is looking for more help for the coming season.

The group was started by several community partners including Healthy Lincoln County, Morris Farm in Wiscasset, the St. Philip’s Help Yourself Food Pantry, and Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools (FARMS). Its mission is to get fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables to convenient sites around the region for those who might not have access to them.

Hannah Semler, of the Maine Gleaning Network, said the Lincoln County Gleaners have done a great job helping people in such a short amount of time.

“The Lincoln County Gleaners have been champions in going the extra mile to get produce when the Maine Gleaning Network uncovers surplus on farms that are bit outside their local communities,” Semler said. “We have come to rely on this rugged group of volunteers for any opportunities of statewide collaboration.”

One of the recipients of the Gleaners’ haul is the Ecumenical Food Pantry in Newcastle, which serves about 80 households every Tuesday.

The food pantry, located in the lower level of the Second Congregational Church on Main Street, provides assistance to those in need in Newcastle, Nobleboro, Damariscotta and neighboring communities.

 

Mike Westcott, the food pantry’s co-chairman, said the fresh produce it receives from the gleaners is a nice complement to the items bought from and donated by the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Hannaford and other organizations.

“Having any food is a big deal, especially because the food insecurity numbers are going up in the state of Maine,” Westcott said.

Leslie Wicks, who works for FARMS visited the food pantry last week making perogies and offering cooking tips and recipes to anyone who was interested.

“A lot of this is about education and getting people excited,” Wicks said. “Exposure to a variety of things through local farms and the gleaners, like microgreens or daikon radish, are interesting, and having access to (those foods) is huge.”

Wicks said volunteers came together and used their knowledge and resources to seek out local farmers who would be interested in having the group glean at their farm.

“We have received nothing but support and enthusiasm and look forward to adding more farms to be able to glean weekly or bi-weekly,” she said.

Morning Dew Farm in Newcastle was one of the spots the gleaners used last year, and Brady Hatch said gleaning not only helps the community, but it’s good for the farm, too.

“While we send produce to the local pantry each week, the Gleaners bridge an important gap by providing a valuable community resource,” Hatch said. “They play a key role in making surplus produce in the field available to the food insecure.”

The produce gleaned includes lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, cilantro, cucumbers, carrots, corn, kale, squash and apples.

The group is hosting an information session for people interested in volunteering from 6 to 7 p.m. April 26 at Morris Farm in Wiscasset.

Lara Cogar, a nutrition educator with Healthy Lincoln County, said there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into gleaning, so the Lincoln County Gleaners can use additional volunteers to help make the community better.

“Farm gleaning is such a simple way to get gorgeous, locally-grown food out there for all folks who live in our community,” she said. “With a committed team of volunteers, local agencies and farm workers working side by side, all our neighbors can take one more step toward living healthier lives.”

The food gleaned by the Lincoln County Gleaners was distributed to the Bristol Library, Damariscotta Baptist Church, Wiscasset Community Center, Medomak Valley High School, Whitefield Elementary, Nobleboro Central School, Lincoln Medical Partners and food pantries in Jefferson and Boothbay, among many other locations.

A study by the USDA found that 15.6 million households were food insecure in 2016, including 16 percent of Maine households. With additional volunteers and a year of experience, the Lincoln County Gleaners plan to do all it can to help those with food insecurity.

For more information, contact Kate Marone of Healthy Lincoln County at [email protected].