By Jean Blish Siers *
Most strawberry farms sell only what is picked that day, allowing them to provide the freshest berries to their customers. Society of Andrew is grateful when those growers call us and allow us to pick up the still wonderfully fresh fruit and get it to neighbors in need.
A couple weeks ago, the owner of Mabe’s Berry Farm, north of Winston-Salem, NC, called to tell me she had 40 gallons of beautiful strawberries that she couldn’t sell. She’d called a large food bank in the area, but they wanted her to package the berries and deliver the fruit to them. Packaging costs money and delivery costs time, two things that are often in short supply on small farms.
My good friend Sandy lives in Thomasville, NC, a little less than an hour away. Thomasville was once the center of the North Carolina furniture industry, but in recent years, that industry has slowly moved away. In 2014, the last furniture plant closed. Now, Thomasville has a poverty rate hovering above 16%, and many folks have trouble simply putting food on the table, especially nutritious food.
This was Sandy’s first time volunteering with us and she wasn’t sure what to expect. But she said each step of the way was much easier than she could have anticipated. She went to an Aldi supermarket and found plenty of flat boxes to transport the berries. The farmers helped transfer the berries from their containers to hers, and then Sandy headed to a public housing development in Thomasville. She has worked locally with healthy eating initiatives, and knew right where to go! That lovely fruit was distributed in no time, gracing tables with fresh, nutritious produce.
One woman and her son picked up a couple of gallons. Although they live in public housing, she likes to make homemade desserts for a battered-women’s shelter in a neighboring city, and she knew those women would love to get some fresh fruit. After all, a gallon of strawberries from most farm stands cost between $12 and $15. That’s more than most folks on a fixed income would be able to afford. Those forty gallons of strawberries would cost about $500.
A lot of pieces had to come together for Society of St. Andrew to move that food. The farmer had to know we were an option to throwing the food away, and be willing to hold onto the berries until I could get a driver there. They had to then spend some of their precious time helping load the berries. My friend Sandy had to shift around her work schedule to find time to drive to the farm and make the delivery. And the neighbors in that community had to be willing to take the bounty and share it among themselves so as many people as possible were fed.
Stories similar to this play out every day across the country. We at Society of St. Andrew are grateful to the farmers who produce the food and hate throwing it away. We’re grateful to the drivers who give of their time and gas to get the food to those who need it. And we’re so grateful for the good folks in our community who want healthy options for themselves and their families. We couldn’t do it without each and every one of them!
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator.