Groups of volunteers glean leftovers, cannery rejects

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

An organization that helps feed the hungry is looking for growers to participate.

Unlike Farmers Ending Hunger, where farmers dedicate acres to feeding the hungry, Salem Harvest uses volunteers to harvest crops that canneries unexpectedly reject or that aren't substantial enough for farmers to harvest.

The organization then distributes the food to area food banks.

Dick Yates, database manager for Salem Harvest, said volunteers harvested between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds of cherries from an orchard east of Salem last year after commercial pickers harvested the bulk of the crop.

In another case, the organization harvested beans that a cannery rejected because of gray mold.

"The mechanical harvester couldn't separate the good stuff from the bad stuff," Yates said, "but you get a couple of hundred people picking the good stuff, and you can feed some mouths."

Salem Harvest started two years ago after a group of Salem residents noticed that fruit on backyard trees was going to waste. After putting together a website, Yates said, "a number of people started signing up as pickers, and then we started getting large-scale harvests."

Today the organization boasts more than 2,000 volunteers who have harvested and distributed nearly 150,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables to food banks.

A key to the organization's success is rapid response, Yates said.

"One thing we are good at is being fast and flexible, and being able to put a couple of hundred of people out in a field within a couple of days," Yates said.

The organization also is well organized and responsible, said Molly Pearmine McCargar of Pearmine Farms in Gervais.

Pearmine Farms has called the group twice to harvest food that otherwise would have been plowed under.

"They parked exactly where we asked them to. It was well organized, and they do exactly what you ask," Pearmine said.

"You don't even have to be out there if you don't want to be," she said.

Yates said that farms that donate through the organization can receive a tax deduction.

"That's not why we did it," Pearmine said. "We had food available that the cannery wouldn't take, so why disc it in when Oregon is one of the hungriest states in the nation?"

Growers interested in participating are asked to go to the group's website -- salemharvest.org -- or call 503-877-9045.

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