- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

MOSES LAKE, Wash. (AP) - Sometimes the field, or the orchard, isn’t empty when harvest is over. Sometimes a gardener just can’t get to all that produce. There’s not time or energy to get to it all, but it would be a shame to let it go to waste. There is another alternative, however, and that’s to contact the gleaners.

Moses Lake gleaning volunteers go out to the site and pick up the leftover produce, which is split between the volunteers and local charitable agencies. The Moses Lake Senior Center operates one program, while the other is a joint effort of the Moses Lake Food Bank and the “First Harvest” program sponsored by the Moses Lake Rotary.

Volunteers with the senior center program pay a $20 annual fee, and are allowed first choice of the produce harvested, organizer Rob Kallam said.

They work on smaller projects, a few rows or a few trees, Kallam said. Bigger projects are handed to the “Harvest Against Hunger” volunteers, the joint food bank-Rotary project. “We come in when there’s enough (produce) to fill up eight watermelon bins,” said Jeni Roberts, who runs the program for the food bank.

Gleaners are willing to harvest almost any kind of fresh fruit or vegetables, “apricots to zucchini,” Roberts said.

“There are 120 families in the (senior center) gleaners right now,” Kallam said. “Some of them have been doing it 20 years or longer.” Some people on the gleaning crew used to be customers at the food bank and participate as a way of giving back, he said.

But there’s room for more volunteers in both programs, Roberts and Kallam said. “Always,” Roberts said.

Crews try to avoid working in the heat of the day, Kallam said. Sometimes a gleaning event is scheduled, sometimes they come up on short notice, Roberts said. It’s not difficult work, but sometimes there’s a lot of overhead work (fruit trees) or bending (onion fields) required, he said.

“We stay within about an hour of Moses Lake,” Roberts said, although the gleaning crew has gone as far as Wenatchee for produce that’s not available in the Moses Lake area.

The produce collected by the senior center gleaners is donated to the senior center, and anything left after that goes to the Moses Lake Food Bank, Kallam said. Anything harvested by the food bank crew goes back to the food bank. There it’s sorted and shared with other food banks in Grant County as well as Adams, Lincoln, Benton and Yakima counties, 33 in all, she said.

Some of the donors are big farm operations; others are family gardens. Kallam said he took a call from one couple that each liked a big garden, so they each planted one. The results were so good they couldn’t harvest it all, and called the gleaners, he said.

The gleaning crew has harvested entire fields of onions and potatoes. “We have farmers who will plow up potato fields for us to harvest,” Roberts said. In 2012 “a guy donated a sweet corn field to us,” Kallam said.

Then there was the squash. “Five acres of unharvested butternut squash,” Roberts said. “We had about 20 people and we filled 42 apple bins with squash,” she said.

“It’s just amazing how generous farmers in the Basin are,” Roberts said.

And the food is used. Kallam recalled working in a sweet corn field with two sisters who confessed they hadn’t had dinner for two days. The food bank distributes all the gleaned food it gets, Roberts said.

The gleaning crew works from April, when they started harvesting asparagus, to late October. “Walnuts are still coming up,” Kallam said. The harvest depends on the season. Walnuts, apricots and apples are alternate-bearing, so every other year there’s a good chance of an abundant supply of those. This year was big for apricots, Roberts said. “People got so sick of harvesting apricots,” she said.

On the other hand, abundance is good. “Of all the problems to have in the world, that’s one I will take,” she said.

People who want to volunteer for the gleaning crew can find more information at the Moses Lake Food Bank website or the senior center, 608 E. Third Ave.

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Information from: Columbia Basin Herald, https://www.columbiabasinherald.com

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