By Martie Thompson
Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested. The Society of St. Andrew is a national non-profit founded in 1979 that takes this biblical principle to heart and mobilizes volunteers to dig up or pick the good vegetables or fruit remaining after harvest and then share it with nearby feeding agencies.
For the past four years, Larry Rood has been the Society of St. Andrew coordinator for the northeast Florida region, which goes from the Florida state line south to Crescent City and from Gainesville east to the beach. While southern St. Johns County is home to the majority of farms in his region, he said there are two small farms in the Jacksonville area, including one run by the Clara White mission in Ponte Vedra Beach, where volunteers are needed to plant, weed and harvest. Even individuals with citrus trees may contact Rood to schedule a gleaning.
“We always need volunteers,” Rood said.
In addition to citrus gleaning, which requires volunteers to pick fruit from trees, bag it and then take it to a distribution center, volunteers are also called upon to harvest cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Rood said these crops are more labor intensive and require volunteers to bend while cutting the produce, and then throw the produce into a wagon. He estimates that most gleanings take between 90 minutes and three hours and the peak time is December through the end of May.
“In addition to small individual farms, we also partner with the UF test field,” Rood said. “We have a large cabbage gleaning scheduled there soon. All of the food gleaned is fit to eat and we take it to either the Mandarin Food Bank, Mandarin Presbyterian Church, St. Francis House in St. Augustine or Dining with Dignity in St. Augustine, among others.”
Rood said the work is very fulfilling, but can be physically demanding and he is appreciative of all the volunteers. Some are individuals who feel called to help out, while others are church and high school groups in search of a noble group activity and community service hours.
“Here are some staggering numbers that often, people don’t know: As a country, there are 55 million people who do not get three meals daily and a lot of these are children. There are 144 billion pounds of food a year that gets thrown away. We try to get as much of the food that is going to waste to the people who need it. That’s why the Society of St. Andrew and the volunteers exist,” Rood said.
Rood said that volunteers can sign up in a couple of different ways for gleanings at times convenient for them: visit the Society of St. Andrew website, www.endhunger.org, and sign up online, or call Larry Rood directly at (904) 738-1190. Volunteers must sign a liability waiver and gleaning locations are not publicized so that random people don’t show up at a farmer’s field outside of scheduled gleaning times.
“I have a passion for this,” Rood said, “and I am always looking for others who do, too.”
Photo courtesy Larry Rood
Students from Ridgeview High School Spanish Honor Society after a successful citrus gleaning in Mandarin.