In Fairfax County, farmers markets are a gold mine for gleaning. Most of the farmers who sell at these markets are from more rural areas of the region and they bring truckloads of product with them since they know they can sell it at a higher price in Northern Virginia. However, not all of the produce sells.
Farmer's budget for only a certain amount of produce to be sold, and often do not want to take produce back with them especially if it has been sitting all day in the sun. They also often do not have the manpower to repack a truck, so if there is no one to collect the unwanted fruits and vegetables at the end of the market day, they will throw away hundreds of pounds of produce.
Rather than waste tens of thousands of pounds every market season, Food for Others set up a gleaning network that connects potential volunteers with markets and non-profit organizations in need of food. The volunteer in question arrives 15 minutes before the end of the market and asks produce vendors if they have any excess that they would like to donate to Food for Others. If the farmer says yes, the volunteer will provide the farmer with pre-purchased plastic tubs. They will then place all of their unsold produce into these bins, and the volunteer will drive the bins back to Food for Others.
At the beginning of the 2017 farmer’s market season, Food for Others began to offer Virginia farmers the Virginia Food Crop Donation Tax Credit for the unsold produce. This allows Food for Others to give the farmers up to $5,000 in tax credits for any unsold produce. As a result of offering this tax credit, some of the farmers have even brought extra produce with them to market with the sole purpose of donating it.
Not all of the farmers at the farmers market are from Virginia. Many farmers from Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania come to sell at these markets. Those farmers do not want to take their unsold produce back with them, and if they choose to donate, they can receive a receipt they can use for their own tax purposes.
Currently, Food for Others collects from 10 farmers markets throughout Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church. As of September, just shy of 30,000 lbs of produce have been collected from farmer’s markets.
Food for Others officially began feeding the hungry from its Merrifield site in 1995. Today food supply, storage and distribution activities are made possible by a network of active volunteers, supporting churches and organizations, grocery stores, farms, gardens, farmers markets, and retail food contributor in addition to the receiving community centers, soup kitchens, and food pantries who together are dedicated to feeding the hungry of Northern Virginia. Nine staff members are employed full time to handle operations at our warehouse. All officers and directors are volunteers who work without compensation. Volunteers staff the office and are responsible for program administration and fundraising.
Food for Others provides free food to those in need throughout Northern Virginia. We distribute food in 4 ways, through our emergency warehouse distributions, through our 17 neighborhood sites across Northern Virginia that occur on weeknights, through our 14 community partners, and through our weekend food program for children at 29 Fairfax County Schools. Across all programs we serve an average of 1,800 families per week. Currently, we are focusing on providing healthier foods to our clients because we know that poor nutrition can have lasting detrimental effects on our community.