The Gleaning Initiative increases access to locally grown produce using volunteer labor to better meet farm and food security needs, and provides opportunities for community building and local food education. The Gleaning Initiative works to serve farms and food security organizations by catalyzing mutually beneficial relationships around the distribution of surplus food to those in need. Our goal is to systematize the redistribution of quality surplus food, otherwise going to waste, as a sustainable food system practice.
With the support of USDA SARE, The Gleaning Initiative, a partnership between Healthy Acadia and UMaine Cooperative Extension, recovered 60,000lbs of produce (a 33% increase from 2013) and distributed it to 15 Food Security Organizations (FSOs); partnered with 30 farms and 100 volunteers; worked to support local farms with marketing, transportation and labor. The Gleaning Initiative supported the development of 15 new farm-to-institution market relationships whereby farmers were able to place seconds and surplus in food pantries, meal sites, schools, hospitals and businesses; a total of $15,000 direct dollars have been returned to the local farming economy, since a CSA program in 2013 infused close to $30,000. The rest of the investment in 2014 was made in kind with transportation and volunteer hours reaching $15,000 in value. The Gleaning Initiative also worked with CYON Business Solutions to provide on-farm resource-based consulting to three farms, which included final reports and some tangible results with a new wash and pack shed, a labor analysis and a business plan development.
- NBC News Image – “Gleaning America’s Farms: Unused Crops Feed Hungry Families” By Seth Freed Wessler
- Bangor Daily News Image “Gleaning program puts garden surplus on tables, helps fight food insecurity in Hancock County” By Robert F. Bukaty
In partnership with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Healthy Acadia coordinates The Gleaning Initiative, founded in 2013 as a food security project seeking to strengthen relationships between local farms and food pantries through volunteer-powered food recovery efforts and provide professional surplus management for farmers. The Initiative provides support to local farms to harvest and distribute seconds and surplus to Food Security Organizations (FSOs). These efforts expand the local markets available to farms and increase the amount of local, healthy food available to community members experiencing low income.
Farms find it difficult to place their surplus and seconds, given that it is an uncertain supply, so they have limited ability to plan around their surplus and seconds in advance. The perishability and time sensitivity of placing these products make it strenuous on farmers still trying to meet market demands. Farmers may be unaware of opportunities to market seconds and surplus. Likewise, FSOs are often unaware of opportunities to purchase from farmers.
Additionally, hunger is a significant problem in our region, with one in four children living in a food insecure household. Hancock County FSOs serve thousands of clients each month, often with highly processed food, adding to chronic health and obesity issues within our population. The Gleaning Initiatives supplies fresh, local food to FSOs to combat hunger and obesity while stimulating the local economy.
Though this project, our aim was to address farm-based food waste and the barriers to selling surplus and seconds in a number of innovative ways.
First, the Gleaning Initiative provided support to farms to enable them to rescue food that would have otherwise gone to waste, and to reduce the cost of distributing and selling that food. The Initiative enabled farms to sell their surplus and seconds at prices that support their bottom line and are affordable for alternative markets, such as FSOs. The Initiative reduced costs by coordinating volunteers to provide needed labor to farms, as well as organizing transportation, distribution and logistical support to farms. The Initiative also marketed farms’ surplus and seconds and worked with FSOs and other alternative markets to explore and expand ways for them to purchase the food that would otherwise go to waste. As part of the effort to reduce costs for the farm, reduce food waste and tackle hunger, the project also expanded work exchange models, in which individuals experiencing low-income worked on a farm in exchange for food.
Second, this project partnered with CYON Business Solutions, a farm-based resource management consulting firm, to conduct efficiency analysis with three farms, helping them to understand how to reduce costs, increase profits, and modify business practices to enhance overall business planning and operations.
Third, this project leveraged other revenue opportunities to support the sales of surplus and seconds to alternative markets. We worked with farms and FSOs participating in the Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Mainers Feeding Mainers Program (which provides grants to FSOs to buy local produce.) This program offers prices that do not always cover the costs for which our farms could afford to harvest and distribute their produce. By working with the FSOs and the farms and by providing support that reduced the cost of selling surplus and seconds, this project helped FSOs take advantage of the grants and purchase from local farms at prices that support the net income of the farms.
Due to the fact that the University of Maine had a hiring freeze right before finalizing the job search for the Small Farm Business Sustainability Specialist, we were approved to go ahead with working with Jamien Richardson of CYON Business Solutions, however this was an expensive shift in our budget that forced us to redesign the workplan to meet the following three goals:
To meet our goal of providing support to farms to enable them to rescue food that would have otherwise gone to waste, we accomplished the following:
- We harvested and distributed 30,000 pounds of fresh mostly organic produce from 30 different local farms in Hancock County to 21 Food Security Organizations (FSOs).
- We engaged 100 volunteers in gleaning events, including training 10 Gleaning Champions, who take on a higher level of responsibility coordinating with farmers, FSOs, and volunteers
- We organized 6 gleaning harvest events: apples at Johnston’s Orchard, carrots at King Hill Farm, potatoes at White’s Farm, carrots and potatoes at Horsepower Farm, and an end of season gleaning at Beech Hill Farm with College of the Atlantic students.
- Our Gleaning Coordinator presented at 3 conferences and events: the Good Shepherd Food Bank conference in Brewer, the Council of State Community Development Agencies conference in Boston (where The Gleaning Initiative received a Sterling Achievement Award for Community Development) and the JUICE 2.0 conference in Rockland.
- We developed a “Guide to Gleaning: Surplus and Seconds Management Best Practices” and are sharing with farms individually, as needed, as well as using this guide to share with partners developing gleaning programs in their region. This strategy allows us to get feedback from farmers and incorporate extra elements into our planned 2015 edition of the Guide to Gleaning.
To meet our goal of providing direct business consulting to farms, we accomplished the following:
- In partnership with Healthy Acadia, CYON Business Solutions provided on-farm resource-based consulting to these three farms, and has developed three reports with specific recommendations for farm improvement. This included the first steps of an efficiency analysis looking at cost reduction, process optimization, and overall production volume. North Branch Farm was selected for a Labor Analysis to determine a strategy to increase the efficiency of their labor model, Star Root Farm was selected for a Production Analysis to improve overall production costs and pricing models, and King Hill Farm was selected for an Infrastructure Project to improve the layout and design of processing infrastructure.
To meet our goal of leveraging other revenue opportunities to support the sales of surplus and seconds to alternative markets, we accomplished the following:
- In 2013 we partnered with 7 farms to provide 133 reduced rate CSA shares, with a value of around $30,000 being infused into the local food economy, to serve low-income families accessing food pantries and other food assistance.
- The relationships we built through this CSA program set the foundation for the gleaning program, and in 2014 we had $15,000 from sales and $20,000 from in kind labor serving food security organizations, hospitals and wellness programs.
- We partnered with Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Mainers Feeding Mainers Program to connect 5 farms to 4 food pantries, resulting in the infusion of $9,000 into the local farm economy in 2014.
- The Magic Food Bus spent $3000 in 2014 on food purchased from Farm Drop, benefitting mostly five farms, and Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative.
- Star Root Farm in particular developed accounts with Maine Coast Memorial Hospital and Jackson Laboratory, totaling $5,000 for one farm, which is the most we have been able to convert to sales for any give farm.
- May 1 – June 15, 2014- Needs assessments were conducted with three farms: Star Root Farm, King Hill Farm and North Branch Farm.
- June 15 – A Gleaning Workshop invited food pantries, farms and volunteers to a training to bridge the gaps and increase relationships among all parties. More than 30 people showed up to explore gleaning as a surplus management best practice.
- May 1 – December 31, 2014- The Gleaning Initiative recovered 60,000lbs of food for food security organizations and engaged 22 farms, measured economic return from 9 farms and consulted directly with 3 farms.
- June 1 – December 9, 2014- 30 new gleaning volunteers were engaged.
- December 9, 2014- Volunteers were invited to a volunteer appreciation celebration and wrap-up planning session for the gleaning initiative 2015 growing season and a board of advisors was established.
- June 15 – December 6, 2014- On-farm resource-based consulting visits by CYON Business Solutions averaged 10hrs/farm at Star Root Farm, King Hill Farm and North Branch Farm.
- September 1 – October 16, 2014- With our support, Good Shepherd Food Bank’s “Mainers Feeding Mainers” Program entered into partnership with three new farms; Star Root Farm, Beech Hill Farm and Mandala Farm, providing a total of $3,000 for local food pantries to receive fresh produce from these farms. And increased their support fort two other farms, King Hill and North Branch Farm thanks to our feedback, worth $2000.
- November 1 – December 31, 2014- Each farm that received 10hrs of consulting from CYON Business Solutions was presented with a report containing specific recommendations on how to increase overall farm productivity based on the specific efficiency analysis problem and solution the farmers, Healthy Acadia and CYON Business Solutions set out to solve.
- The Gleaning Initiative Rack Card
- The Gleaning Initiative Brochure 2014
- The Gleaning Workshop invited 30 representatives from food pantries, meal sites, farms and gleaning initiative volunteers to discuss the surplus management best practices the gleaning intiative put in place under USDA SARE grant funding
Star Root Farm’s efficiency analysis indicated that the price points used under the bulk CSA model do not accurately reflect cost of production. An increase in prices, diversifying revenue streams, and increasing efficiency should be performed for the overall sustainability of the farm. Furthermore,
Through diagramming of King Hill Farm work flow, a lack of efficiency of the farm infrastructure for wash and pack was identified, vegetable processing and throughput and multiple risk factors for food safety and loss of efficiency were identified, and recommendations for a new pack house design that incorporated food safety measures and increases efficiency of the workflow model.
North Branch identified labor inefficiencies as a principal barrier of production, through analyzing other farm labor models a new labor management plan will be documented, consistent and easily communicated to farm staff and other workers. A crop efficiency analysis of onions identified true cost of labor for their most labor-intensive crop.
A Guide to Gleaning has also been developed to support new farmers and farms that are not familiar with gleaning in understanding how engaging in these efforts can benefit the overall sustainability of the farm with increased relationships and potential markets.
- King Hill farm developed a new Wash&Pack Station for their CSA business, North Branch Farm redesigned their labor model to better integrate their extensive diversified farm, and Star Root Farm was able to develop a more sustainable business plan for a bulk vegetable service model and create an on-farm composting project proposal with Jackson Lab and Hancock County Planning Commission.
- Exit inteviews were conducted with both Star Root and King Hill Farm (see attachments)
- Beech Hill Farm, Mandala Farm and Star Root Farm, North Branch Farm and King Hill Farm received bulk CSA grants from Mainers Feeding Mainers, facilitated by the Gleaning Initiative, totaling $5,000 spent over the course of the season.
- The Magic Food Bus community fundraising efforts led by the Gleaning Initiative raised over $3,000 to be spent on FarmDrop’s Online Farmers’ Market (of which 12 farms are members).
- Surplus root vegetables from King Hill Farm and North Branch Farm were sold to Tree of Life Food Pantry, Bar Harbor Food Pantries and Loaves and Fished Food Pantries, for under $1/lb.
- The Guide to Gleaning was used to share the benefits of gleaning with a wider number of farms in an dout of the area, increasing the reach of our work, and also creatin partnerships with entrepreneurial organizations such as Crown of Maine, and non-profit organizations such as Mainers Feeding Mainers.
- A partnership with technology and software developers around an online platform for connecting more food producers to seconds and surplus markets was discussed and is now the idea based on which The Gleaning Intiative will be speaking at Maine Fare, by Maine Framland and Trust, and at Maine Start Up and Creat Week in Potland.
- Connections around this topic have also been made with Slow Money Maine to explore getting a social business around surplus management started.
- The Exit Interview with King Hill Farm spoke very well of the efforts CYON Business Solutions and The Gleaning Initiative collaborated on
- An Exit Interview was also conducted with Star Root Farm where farmer Mellie Anderson shares her ideas of what the work we did under USDA SARE grant did to support her business planning and models
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
From the beginning the Gleaning Initiative has written a blog called A Girl’s Got to Glean – http://agirlsgottoglean.blogspot.com/ -in which interesting stories around gleaning and different related events are told. There were public media appearances in NBC News Online, and Bangor Daily News, as well as WABI TV.
More specific outreach efforts under USDA SARE grant efforts include the “Guide to Gleaning: Surplus and Seconds Management Best Practice”, the CYON Reports for King Hill and Star Root Farms, and a Labor Analysis conducted for North Branch Farm. The Guide to Gleaning was intended to be a source of information for farmers that were either tangentially involved in the Gleaning Initiative, or had never participated to communicate the benefits of the project to them and have them become advocates for us as well. The feedback on the Guide has not been collected yet, as we are doing this one-on-one throughout this season to help define the 2015 edition.
The CYON reports had differing effects depending on the farm and the project at hand. But the business model at Start Root Farm was transformed by the results to best impact the sustainability of the Star Root business model. On the other hand King Hill farm build a packing shed based on the CYON Business Solutions suggestions, catalyzing the work that might have taken them a long time to develop. The report with North Branch Farm become more a Labor Analysis then a report, and the research done and the conversations had really did open the farmers up to looking at their labor issues with new lenses.
The economic analysis that CYON Business Solutions completed for The Gleaning Initiative around the value creation for farmers working with gleaning activities, shows that we are able to create about $35,000 in value for the general food economy including $15,000 in sales, $20,000 in volunteer labor, $265 in miles driven specifically for sales. Furthermore there has been no quantification process for the 15 new farm-to-institution relationships that have been developed through the gleaning activities in 2014. Many of these relationships are being sustained through 2015. There is also an understanding that the $30,000 spent on CSAs in 2013 catapulted the relationship with farmers to trust us with theri produce and promotion efforts.
How can a gleaning program can sustain itself or if it will always rely on outside funds to execute the basic operations?
This is a question we grapple with on an on-going basis. In our experience, the role of a paid gleaning coordinator is critical in developing a professional level service to farmers that creates truly mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and food security organizations. The coordinator is also a volunteer recruiter and manager, and a centralized logistics coordinator of gleaning operations. One of our primary strategies within the Gleaning Initiative is for the coordinator to establish on-going systems that can eventually sustain themselves with minimal staff support. We develop direct, creative, self-sustaining partnerships among FSOs, food businesses, and community volunteers.
Some examples of self-sustaining systems we have established include:
- Several farmers established new commercial relationships with FSOs, offering discounted prices for surplus and seconds produce after factoring in volunteer labor, marketing, and delivery by The Gleaning Initiative
- FarmDrop, an online farmers’ market based in Blue Hill, now serves as a gleaning hub where farmers can drop gleaned product for FSO pick up
- Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative, a statewide Maine foods delivery company, now drops off surplus product for distribution to FSOs
- We streamlined and routinized new gleaning systems, such as between a food pantry and the local Hannaford, to facilitate success and minimize volunteer and staff effort and time
Examples of spin-off initiatives and impacts that we anticipate developing include:
- Volunteer Gleaning Teams, led by Champions, that will continue to seek out and respond to gleaning opportunities, collecting food that would have otherwise gone to waste and distributing it to FSOs.
- Farms that implement innovative marketing strategies and successfully develop surplus and seconds management systems through will continue to serve FSOs and expand their programs to successfully integrate low-income families into their farming economy in innovative ways, including by establishing commercial relationships with FSOs, offering discounted prices for surplus and seconds produce after factoring in volunteer labor, marketing, and delivery by gleaning volunteers.
- Farms, retail stores and restaurants will use the training received to take advantage of opportunities for food waste reduction and increase efficiency on an on-going basis.
- Retail stores and restaurants will continue to reduce their waste through the use of waste tracking systems and increase support of local food security organizations.
While these types of smaller-scale systems can be launched by the coordinator and operate for a certain time on their own, there are constant hurdles such as volunteer turnover, that make it necessary to have a coordinator available.
In terms of sustaining the role of the Gleaning Coordinator, it will be important to create a funding mechanism that is couched in market logics and not only in non-profit funding. Some ideas around marketing the gleaned food for the benefit of the gleaning program could be of use for future goals of getting more food to more corners of Downeast Maine, with the Farm-to-School and Healthy General Storess projects also led through Healthy Acadia.
Did the consulting given to the farmers as part of the SARE project make gleaning more probable? Is it an approach other gleaning programs should try?
By approaching farms with in-kind services such as consulting, the relationship between the Gleaning Initiative and Farms were strengthened because of the support provided to the sustainable growth of the farms. The farms understood that this was a way in which Healthy Acadia could give back to the farmers who were supporting the organizations, food pantries and meal sites, that were being served through the gleaning initiative. To the extent that farmers can be incentivized to work with certain non-profit organizations, and clearly see the gleaning relationships as benefiting their goals to feed people while also making a living at doing so, the sustainability of the project is enhanced. By providing a return for farms, with programs to serve low-income CSAs or provide surplus management services and connect farmers to more wholesale markets, farmers become loyal to the goals of the gleaning program, leaving no room for doubt as to the small benefits that the farmers receive. It is proven through the Gleaning Program and also through the Mainers feeding Mainers program that we partner with, that the more you support farmers, the more they will support you.
There are thirty different farms in Hancock and Washington Counties that have adopted gleaning as a common or occasional practice, calling The Gleaning Initiative whenever there is something worth recovering in their fields. Also at Farmers Markets there are many opportunities for positive feedback when farmers are extremely happy to not have to bring back to the farm what they had intended to sell that day. Rather than spend time on storage and managing it is best to work with The Gleaning Initiative.
Two exit interview were conducted one with King Hill Farm and one with Star Root Farm and the summary of the content is that there would not have been a packing shed at King Hill Farm this summer, and Star Root Farm would not have doubled her prices in an attempt to reach the efficiency goals suggested in the CYON Final Reports.
Finally, the point of developing a Guide to Gleaning was to engage farms in conversations around the benefits of partnering with The Gleaning Initiative. Although many of these conversations happen on a daily basis, the official data collection on feedback has not yet started. This will be an ongoing process for 2015.
Areas needing additional study
The Gleaning Initiative is currently analyzing how the work with 22 different farms, 9 of which demonstrated specific economic impact, indicates that if the capacity was expanded to serve more local farms, the gleaning activities of surplus management and seconds distribution could result in an increase in economic return for the overall local food economy.
If we were to access surplus, sell it or create value-added products with it, and then have the funds go back into a resource fund for the farmers participating, this would be a way to invest surplus back into the farm instead of letting it just compost in the fields.
There is a need for a more widespread analysis for contributive costs for economic value of Healthy Acadia’s impact on local farms. That value will include hard numbers for contributive costs, and it will include a quantification of the social impact in terms of education, community relationships, recovery and youth programs.