Gleaning Wisdom: It’s Farm to Food Bank Season!
In addition to all the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to Maryland farms, Mother Nature is showing that she will still be a factor in this year’s growing season. I spoke to a farmer this week whose strawberry season lasted 9 weeks! That is unheard of in Maryland. The reason for the extra length on both crops is due to the cold, wet, windy spring. Strawberries and asparagus do not like the heat and that typically arrives early June. Because of this, fruit and vegetable crops appear to be 1 – 2 weeks behind an average season. And the 4th of July is just around the corner, which generally marks the time at which fresh produce really starts to kick in.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Northern Baltimore County to visit our longest standing Farm to Food Bank partner, First Fruits Farm (FFF). They’ve been a friend to the food bank for over 10 years! As I pulled up the driveway Founder Rick Bernstein was busy cultivating 5-acre blocks of white potatoes. There was a newly constructed 200’ high tunnel (think greenhouse, but with plants growing in the ground) with approximately 500 tomato plants that were already bearing fruit the size of my hand! They are estimating that these plants will yield 10,000 pounds of tomatoes. Also planted in the fields are sweet corn, peppers, cabbage, green beans, and broccoli. Additionally, I got a tour of their re-modeled summer kitchen where they hope to conduct educational activities. This farm has so much going on. If you would like to get involved this season, please visit our website to sign up for volunteer activities.
“What was extraordinary about this experience was that the berries were facilitated to a local MFB partner and two of the families who helped glean the berries were able to help distribute them to families in need. It’s not every day that families get to see the Farm to Food Bank program come full circle.”
In mid-June we were fortunate enough to glean 213 pounds of strawberries from First Class Farms in Preston (Caroline County). The strawberries were gleaned by about two dozen volunteers who braved the mist and light rain for the first gleaning of the 2020 season. What was extraordinary about this experience was that the berries were facilitated to a local MFB partner and two of the families who helped glean the berries were able to help distribute them to families in need. It’s not every day that families get to see the Farm to Food Bank program come full circle.
If you’re wondering how COVID-19 is affecting the Farm to Food Bank program, one thing I can tell you is that that volunteers will see some new things this season. The first is a hand washing station so that everyone can wash their hands prior to gleaning. Because face masks are still recommended, everyone was asked to wear theirs. And all volunteers must sign an updated waiver that includes COVID19-related information.
If you are signed up on our website as a Farm to Food Bank volunteer, you should begin to see more gleaning notifications appear. Keep an eye out for sweet corn harvests that will take place at Swann Farms in Owings (Southern MD) soon after the 4th of July. Also on the horizon are pickling cucumbers, sweet corn, and red potatoes across Maryland’s Eastern Shore (Caroline and Dorchester County). Around the Reisterstown area, there is a grain farmer who is raising six acres of sweet corn strictly to donate to the MD Food Bank. Since the corn is planted in three two-acre blocks about a week apart, those harvests will occur over a four- to six-week period. This generous first-time farm partner is also working to raise squash, tomatoes, and broccoli for the fall. Opportunities to glean there will also be posted on our website.
As always, Maryland farmers are working hard to produce the best produce possible for distribution all across the area. In partnership with these 50 or so farms across Maryland, we will continue the hard work of feeding people, strengthening communities, and ending hunger for more Marylanders.