An article written by ACT’s Executive Director Rebecca Brown that appeared in the Littleton Courier.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve delivered chard and lettuces from my garden to the Littleton Food Co-op. In the next several, I’ll take beets, beans, and blueberries.
I’m not a commercial grower and the Co-op certainly doesn’t need my produce. But a lot of people in the North Country do.
It’s the land of plenty right now for gardeners, so it’s a great time to share our backyard bounty with those who need fresh vegetables and fruit. Thanks to the Co-op, it’s easier than ever to do that. All you have to do is drop off your washed, bagged garden produce at the service desk any day except Sundays. The Co-op provides the produce to the local food pantries.
This simple effort addresses two big issues: poverty, and food waste.
Rural poverty is not what you see in the travel brochures and promotions for New Hampshire or the White Mountains. The fact of poverty is often a hidden aspect of life here, especially as our state scores so high nationally in measures of quality of life and health. But hundreds of local people rely on the emergency food system – the food pantries and other organizations that collect and offer food – for part of their weekly sustenance.
According to the Carsey Institute at UNH, as many as 20 percent of Coös County households experience a shortage of food: bare cupboards, empty refrigerators, and empty bellies. While New Hampshire overall has lower rates of hunger than the national average, when we break the data down by county it is clear that access to good healthy food is not equitable. Hunger rates in parts of the North Country are in line with the highest national rates.
In addition, to low income, another big challenge for many people is getting to places that sell fresh, nutritious local food. Parts of Grafton and Coös counties are considered “food deserts” – places without a nearby grocery store or other produce market, where people more often purchase from convenience stores that typically do not offer fresh food.
Food waste is another issue that we might not be aware of, yet are probably complicit in. The amount of food that is thrown away – by consumers, producers, retailers, restaurants, processors, and so on – is staggering. In the U.S., it’s estimated that retailers alone throw out 43 billion pounds of food a year. The figure the USDA uses to describe household food waste is one third: one third of all the food Americans buy is thrown away.
Bringing that home, I’ve been troubled by what I grow and can’t consume, store, or give away to friends and neighbors. I don’t mind the deer coming in December to eat my giant beets left in the ground, but I would rather have harvested those beets and gotten them to someone who could use
them. My hunch was that there are plenty of people like me, with backyard gardens and extra produce who would like an easy way to get the goods those who need them.
That’s where the Co-op stepped in this year, agreeing to try a backyard gleaning program where they’d make it as easy as possible for busy people to bring in their garden surplus. They even offered the incentive of discounted seeds this spring if you signed up to participate.
Anyone can participate, whether you signed up this spring or not. Around the country, backyard gleaning has been the most difficult type of gleaning program to make successful, for many areas lack a central place with storage, labor, regular hours, and relationships with the food pantries, as well as the mission, to make it happen. That’s why the Co-op is a perfect partner in this effort. All they need now is more people to join in.
This Thursday, take a break from weeding or harvesting and come to the Nourish Food Film Festival at the Colonial in Bethlehem. Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust, through our Keep Growing initiative to build a strong local food system in the North Country, is hosting this entertaining, informative, and provocative series of short films. It’s free – just bring fresh produce for the food pantries. The films start at 7:30 p.m.
And mark Aug. 29 on your calendar for a community potluck and harvest supper. At the Dow Field in Franconia, there will be games, music, and a pie contest. Bring your dish to share, a picnic blanket and chairs. It will be a great way to celebrate the season!