Special Reports

Gleaning effort brings sweet corn to Valley's hungry

Covered in plant debris, dirt and sweat, a crew of volunteers harvested about 7,000 pounds of sweet corn on Saturday as part of the Community Food Bank’s new gleaning program.

About 10 volunteers that included members of the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission's Local Conservation Corps spent about four hours picking corn from a field near Hanford.

“This has really been a great opportunity for us,” said Rick Palermo, director of operations for the Fresno-based Food Bank. “We don’t get a lot of sweet corn donated to us, so this is good to have and our clients really like it.”

The Food Bank plans to distribute the corn to its many partner agencies that serve families throughout Fresno, Madera, Kings and Kern counties.

Saturday’s event was the first of what Food Bank officials hope will be many gleaning opportunities for the agency. Food advocates say gleaning helps reduce the problem of food waste in farming while also funneling the rescued foodstuffs to the hungry.

In the past, the Food Bank did not have an effective system for collecting donated fruits or vegetables that were still in the field.

But Food Bank officials have been working on cultivating a pool of volunteers willing to get a little dirty and sweaty on behalf of feeding the hungry.

“The response has been very good, especially after the issue has been in the news,” said Sarah Pedelty, the Food Bank’s volunteer coordinator. “People are calling wanting specifically to do gleaning.”

One of the challenges for any gleaning program is finding the volunteers when the time is right. Pedelty had 20 to 30 people signed up to glean on Aug. 10, when the crop was expected to be ready.

But the recent string of triple-digit temperatures pushed the corn’s maturity, making it ready to harvest this weekend.

Pedelty said luckily the Food Bank has a good relationship with EOC’s Local Conservation Corps and six members stepped in to help harvest on short notice.

Among them was Ruben Salinas, who was covered in corn tassel and dust. Although he’s never harvested corn, Salinas learned quickly to search out the plump ears. Salinas had to maneuver through tight rows of corn stalks standing more than 10 feet high.

After he snapped the corn from the stalk, he placed it in a bucket and then dumped it into a cardboard bin.

“I didn’t mind getting a little dirty because we know we are helping people in the community,” Salinas said. “I am proud of what we have done today.”

Farmer Bill White, who donated the corn, was also feeling good about Saturday’s event.

White farms about 80 acres of corn and routinely plants a few extra rows for friends, family and neighbors. But this year, he also wanted the Community Food Bank to be have its share.

“I know there are people who can use this food,” said White, who also lent his hand harvesting. “And I’m glad they are going to get it. It would be a shame to see that corn go to waste.”