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Gleaners Put Farmers Market Surplus Put to Good Use

Photo courtesy of Community Harvest of Central Vermont

Regulars at the tail end of the Montpelier Farmers Market each Saturday might have noticed folks in red aprons carrying boxes, chatting with farmers, and loading crates into a brown truck with an orange carrot logo on the side.

That would be the “market glean” team—two or three volunteers from Community Harvest of Central Vermont (CHCV) who work together at the end of each market to collect donations of unsold food. They collect primarily produce, but occasionally meat, dairy, and bread. The gleanings recovered from the market are taken to CHCV’s storage cooler in Berlin and added to other weekly gleanings, which are then distributed to sites around the region, including 20 food shelves, senior meal programs, and other recipients in Washington County.

“The weekly market gleaning provides a great opportunity to interact with farmers and community members, being visible and educating people about gleaning and why it is important, and what the program does and how people can get involved,” says Allison Levin, CHCV’s executive director.

Most of what is donated to CHCV from the Montpelier market is delivered to the Montpelier Food Pantry. This is in part because in past years, the Food Pantry was doing the market gleaning. A few years ago, for efficiency’s sake, CHCV took over the market gleaning and added it to other gleaning work already being done.

The crops at the market are similar to those CHCV gathers in the field, but the quantities tend to be smaller. “We get small amounts of lots of different kinds of crops—a handful of this, a bunch of that—versus the truck load of one kind of crop that we would glean from a field,” Levin explains. The quality of the crops gleaned at the market tend to be higher than the mix CHCV gets from field gleaning.

Market gleaning has become a critical part of CHCV’s yearly recovery mix. Given that this year’s markets will continue through October, final numbers for the year are not available. In past years, the amount that CHCV receives from the market made up about 10 percent of the total gleaned over the course of the year. That works out to about 140 pounds per week, on average, from the market.

While field gleaning generally runs from June through early November, CHCV works with farms year-round, as in the off-season farms are working through their storage crops and more and more utilizing “shoulder season” greenhouses.

At this time CHCV only does market gleaning at the Capital City Farmers Market, as it is one of the largest markets in Central Vermont. It has considered working at other markets, says Levin. “Waitsfield is the logical next location, if we can build the volunteer capacity to work there as well,” she said. The fact that the two markets are on the same day creates some additional challenges.

In October, Community Harvest will be getting additional support from Hunger Mountain Co-op, where customers can “round up” their bill a few extra pennies at the register to help support CHCV. “Along with our other sponsoring partners, Northfield Savings Bank and Four Springs Farm, the Co-op makes it possible for us to do this critical food recovery work at the Market,” Levin said. “There are food recovery opportunities at every step of the process, and we’re glad to be able to help gleaning be a part of the market culture in Montpelier.”