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Gleaning the countryside to feed the urban poor

July 13, 2010

Marilyn Marks works for a ministry that saves hundreds of thousands of food each year from being wasted, and distributes it to those in need.

Yet, she says her organization owns no trucks, has no warehouse, doesn't run any farms and depends almost entirely on volunteer labor.

Marks covers a western North Carolina and South Carolina district for the Society of St. Andrew, a gleaning network. And on Tuesday she shared some of the humorous and serious stories about her organization.

No, it is not named after a golf course.

No, it does not sell bagpipes.

No, it does not redistribute food to rich people.

Yes, its volunteers harvest in the fields when, for example, the price of squash plummets each summer and commercial farmers can't afford to pay laborers to pick the fruit.

And the Society accepts truckload-size shipments of nutritious food that was for any reason rejected by area retailers, brings it to a central point and organizes volunteers to take small quantities out into Charlotte neighborhoods.

Example: The harvest from a recent gleaning was distributed in the neighborhood of a person in the Forum audience. Marks asked how the corn was. It's already all eaten up, came the reply. To Marks, that meant success: Rescued food helped boost nutrition in the city before it went bad.

Many of Marks' stories Tuesday morning were about the food wasted in America's food delivery system. In fact, she said that about 25% of the food never gets eaten. Grocers' preference for fruits or vegetables all of a certain size means that the harvest that is a bit too small or a bit too big is thrown away. The gleaners' task, Marks said, is to know the farmers, dispatch volunteers with trucks to the sorting sheds, and deliver the rejected food to people who are hungry.

And, said Marks, many people still contend with hunger, particularly elderly people whose money to buy food runs out at the end of the month.



In her own words Excerpts from Marilyn Marks' comments:


On hunger and obesity.


Finding consumers for unusual rescued vegetables.


On how business decisions are changing the food distribution system.


On "organic" and eating locally.







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at the West Charlotte Recreation Center, 2222 Kendall Drive, Charlotte, NC
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