RUTHER GLEN—Close to 60 gleaners came to Caroline County’s Mt. Olympus Farm on Thursday and picked a truckload of bell peppers to donate to food banks.
Among the workers was Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Todd Haymore.
It was all part of the second annual Commonwealth Day of Gleaning in which gleaners picked crops on 11 farms across Virginia. These are crops that would otherwise be left in the fields to rot or plowed under after harvest. In every case, the fruits and vegetables are still fresh and offer excellent sources of nutrition.
Haymore and Matthew Lohr, Virginia’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, picked bell peppers at Mt. Olympus Farm, a pick-your-own operation along Jefferson Davis Highway near the Caroline County Agriculture Fair. Joining Haymore and Lohr were children from as far away as Powhatan County and Stafford, as well as workers with the Fredericksburg Food Bank, where the peppers were delivered.
Others working in the field were volunteers with the Society of St. Andrews, which gleans the fields at Mt. Olympus once each week, according to Jacqueline Pugh, the Richmond gleaning coordinator for St. Andrews. Leslie Van Horn, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, helped pick peppers.
Haymore noted that Maureen McDonnell, First Lady of Virginia, came up with the idea for the Commonwealth Day of Gleaning. “She is passionate about healthy eating,” Haymore noted. “This is something she felt we could do for the less fortunate.
“Ten percent of the population of the United States relies on institutions like food banks for healthy food,” Haymore said. “The role that food banks play in providing access to that food is very important. We’re talking about 30 million plus who don’t have access to healthy food without food banks.”
Even with the public assistance and the work of nonprofits and charities, about 20 percent of requests for emergency food assistance went unmet in 2011. Commonwealth Day of Gleaning calls attention to this remaining need and to encourage all Virginians to lend a hand, said Elaine Lidholm, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
With the help of eight farms statewide and 143 volunteers, over 37,000 pounds of produce was gleaned last year. This Day of Gleaning provided more than 111,500 servings of fresh and nutrient-rich produce for the hungry in the Commonwealth.
Haymore noted, “Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry by far, contributing more than $50 billion annually to the Commonwealth. So it’s rewarding to help producers in Virginia’s No. 1 industry by giving our time to such a great cause. We are extremely grateful to the farmers who opened their fields to so many volunteers to make this day possible. This Day of Gleaning is an additional way for us to help our farmers, but also to help our fellow Virginians. I am grateful to all of the volunteers who came out today.”