Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.
Keith Cutshall, gleaning program director for CROS (Christians Reaching Out to Society) Ministries for Palm Beach and Martin counties, joined gleaners representing groups from throughout the United States and Canada when they came together recently for the third annual International Gleaning Symposium in Seattle.
Many local groups participate in gleaning projects, including St. Peter’s United Methodist Church and St. Michael Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wellington, Community of Hope Church in Loxahatchee Groves and Emerald Cove Middle School in Wellington.
Gleaning is done from November through July, weather permitting. Farming partners include R.C. Hatton Farms, Bedner Family Farms, Agri-Gator Inc., Hundley Farms, Green Cay Farming Systems, Mecca Farms, Growers Management and Roth Farms. CROS also harvests mangoes from the Solid Waste Authority’s mango grove in the summer. Produce gleaned includes tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet corn, green peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, green beans, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage and mangoes.
Cutshall attended the symposium in Seattle to make his presentation, “How to Make Collaborations Work.”
“In my presentation, I was talking about the collaborative partners that we have here in Palm Beach County and the growers that we work with,” Cutshall told the Town-Crier, explaining that CROS Ministries is one of the participatory members of the Association of Gleaning Organizations. “I’ve attended two out of the three symposiums that they had. We’re in the infancy stages of coming together to share best management practices, funding ideas, things that are working for us and things that are working for them.”
Cutshall said the organization has a wide breadth of groups, including fruit collectors that collect off abandoned fruit trees.
“Some are more like us, where they’ll do straight agricultural collections with growers,” he said. “We’ve had more than 120 groups sign up. They really do cover the width and breadth of Palm Beach County. The growers are very generous, but we do not have the opportunity to recover everything that’s there, so we continue to try to grow the program to be able to cover even more.”
Cutshall said gleaning necessitates having four-wheel-drive trucks to get into fields in Belle Glade.
“We actually just secured another grant to get a third vehicle, because during our prime season, which runs February, March and April, we can have as many as five different events running at one time,” he said. “We’ve never been able to pull off five because of not having all the trucking equipment that we need. With the ability to add this third truck, we’re looking to be able to pull off five events on a Saturday next season.”
Aside from weekends, Cutshall added that some school and business groups also come out on Fridays and Mondays.
Samantha Scott, the gleaning coordinator at St. Peter’s, said they’ve participated in a number of gleaning events and get between 12 and 15 people per group.
“The youth group in the past has done corn, we have done peppers in the past year and they did tomatoes recently,” Scott told the Town-Crier. “We do several things with CROS. We don’t just do the gleaning. Our church is very big in supplying them with food for their pantry. At the warehouse, we host the green bags food project every other month and pack the bags for the warehouse. My youth group has gone into the warehouse and actually sorted the food that goes to the pantries. They really enjoy that. We get two pallets of food done every time we’re there.”
The Seattle symposium was spearheaded by Green Urban Lunchbox from Salt Lake City and local partner Rotary First Harvest of Seattle. According to Cutshall, CROS Ministries’ gleaning program is one of the largest food recovery programs in Florida because of the proximity to local farms and the variety and quantity of produce that can be recovered.
Launched in 2003, CROS Ministries’ gleaning program increases the availability and consumption of fresh produce for the region’s food insecure population. The program also provides men, women and children ages five and older an outdoor volunteer experience that gives people the reward of providing food for the hungry in their community. As of May 7, CROS had recovered 534,000 pounds of produce with another month to go before the 2018-19 gleaning season ends.
The fresh produce is then given to CROS’ distribution partners, who allocate the gleaned produce to their community-based partner agencies at no cost. The Palm Beach County Food Bank is the organization’s main distribution partner. Other distribution partners include House of Hope in Martin County, Feeding South Florida, the Society of St. Andrew and the Treasure Coast Food Bank.
“It was great to be around people who understand what you do, the challenges encountered and the many successes celebrated,” Cutshall said. “I was especially inspired by the creativity of other groups as they adapted to gleaning opportunities.”
Since 1978, CROS Ministries has provided food and meals to the most vulnerable in South Florida. Its mission is to serve the hungry in Palm Beach and Martin counties through community collaborations. Programs include eight community food pantries, a hot meal program, a summer camp for children from families with low incomes, a weekend food program for chronically hungry children and gleaning. Learn more at www.crosministries.org.