By Tammy Stables Battaglia, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
Published November 5, 2011, in the Detroit Free Press
DETROIT, MICHIGAN—For years, those gathering food for the needy have talked about crops left lying in fields across southeast Michigan at the end of the growing season.
Almost perfect tomatoes left on the vine, not pretty enough for a store. An overabundance of corn still on the stalk. Cabbages lying in large nests of light green leaves.
But on Saturday, more than two dozen volunteers sawed broccoli stalks and plucked cabbages in a Macomb County field, gathering hundreds of pounds of fall crops to feed the hungry from VanHoutte Farms on 33 Mile Road in Bruce Township.
“It’s so nice to see this happening,” Hannah Stevens, a Michigan State University Extension educator who has been work with southeast Michigan farmers for 30 years, said Saturday in the field just east of Romeo. “They’ve been donating it for years. But to have people actually come out and glean is unusual. It wasn’t something that anyone could envision happening. Maybe we didn’t think there were people would want to come out and do it.”
As she stood in the field, 22 high school Key Club volunteers from around the state plucked cabbages, tossing them both at each other and into large cardboard boxes on a flatbed trailer pulled by a farm tractor. The group—a school-aged extension of Kiwanis—volunteered as part of a weekend gathering to plan their annual convention.
“The agrarian life I have not participated in,” Utica Academy junior Joe Spica, 17, of Shelby Township said, acting silly, smears of cabbage staining the front of his chocolate brown suede jacket. “I’m more accustomed to cookie-cutter houses near strip malls. It was a good experience, to help the community. Fresh produce beats canned goods.”
Over in the broccoli field, three women who met 30 years ago through the Sweet Adelines singing group were picking away. Mary Linda Gauche, 68, of Roseville also volunteers once a month helping deliver food for Forgotten Harvest. But she enlisted the help of her two best friends for Saturday’s harvest, Anne Hoffa, 70, and JoAnn Kramer, 71, both of Harper Woods.
“Yeah, we liked her, until this,” Hoffa joked, stepping over stalks to get at another crown of broccoli, saying their next trip is to a soup kitchen where the vegetable is served. “If there’s any broccoli left on their plates, we’re going to talk.”
Russ Russell, chief development officer for Forgotten Harvest, said about 400 volunteers have gathered crops on Saturdays since the program began Sept. 17.
Forgotten Harvest together with Gleaners Food Bank, the other major food provider to the needy in the region, supplies enough food for about 200,000 free meals a day for the hungry.
But that only feeds a fraction of the 800,000 in the tri-county region at or below the poverty level who are deemed “food insecure” – they skip meals or go entire days without food, he said.
“It’s huge,” Russell said. “As you can see out here, the problem is the food is available – it’s just getting enough people to rescue it or provide the funds to logistically go get it.”
George VanHoutte, a third-generation farmer who tends 400 acres of warm and cold weather crops in Macomb County, said Saturday he’s glad to help.
“I just hate to see stuff go to waste – I have a real problem with it,” VanHoutte said, crediting his father, Al VanHoutte, for that ethic. “I guess he embedded that in us: if you can harvest it, move it, even if it can go to a good cause.”
Dec 12 2011, 11:05 AM