Marcella Houghton on Gleaning for the State College Area Food Bank

Marcella Houghton, delivering tomatoes and peppers to the Bellefonte food bank.

Back in May, the State College Area Food Bank sent out an announcement:

“Marcella Houghton is a student working with the State College Area Food Bank this summer. As part of her work, she is assessing interest among Centre County farmers for participation in a gleaning program, in which trained volunteers harvest excess/unmarketable produce from farm fields for distribution among needy populations. Interested farmers can reach her by email (Marcella Houghton) or phone (845-527-4615)”

 I emailed her last week to see how the project was going, and she sent the following report (thanks Marcella!):

This summer, I interned with the State College Area Food Bank, with a special project of looking into the idea of gleaning. In the spring, I wrote letters to farmers with connections to either the farmers’ market or the PA Dept. of Agriculture to assess interest in gleaning.

Those that responded supported the idea but declined to participate during the 2012 growing season for various reasons: no extra rows to spare, low expected crop yields due to weather (fruit farm), too-specialized crops (hot pepper farm).

I didn’t pursue gleaning much further for a few reasons, partly because my summer-long stay in State College wouldn’t allow me to keep up a program through the busy, early-fall season and partly because of a leadership transition at the food bank.

Another hurdle is the lack of regular deliveries between the State College Food Bank and various Centre County food pantries, which complicates the task of distributing gleaned items to whichever place needs it most—since sometimes the food bank has too much fresh produce to give away before it spoils.

In sum, I wasn’t able to give the project the full and long-term attention it needed. I decided not to dive into it for that reason, and instead volunteered full-time with the food bank and assisted Bill Zimmer, a volunteer gardener who grows several crops for the food bank.

I did have one small gleaning success — I was able to set up a modest donation program with the Penn State Center for Sustainability Community Garden, whereby gardeners could leave produce in a small cooler and I’d come pick it up twice a week on my way to the food bank.

Though the farmers who responded to me declined to participate in gleaning this summer, there are plenty others with whom I did not pursue the issue further, so I think the potential for a gleaning program is still strong. Though I’m back to college for my final semester and can’t be in State College this fall, I’m considering returning after graduation — I’d like to see if there’s still interest in gleaning and a place for me in that project. I would be happy to mesh my enthusiasm for the idea (and insights from this summer) with the needs of the community in making a program work.

Marcella Houghton is a senior in the Environmental Geology program at Middlebury College, Vermont

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