Food for Others has had great success with getting pick your own orchards to allow them to glean. Many of these orchards rely on heavy weekend traffic and school field trips, however during the week they see a huge decline in sales.
Most of the ‘pick your own orchard’ owners in Northern Virginia have another job. Most of the staff they hire to run their orchard has the responsibility of being cashiers rather than picking the fruit to sell. Since Food for Others is able to assemble a team of weekday volunteers, these orchards are happy to allow them to pick their excess tree fruit.
When recruiting volunteers to go to these orchards, Food for Others tries to limit the total number of volunteers to approximately 20. Since most of the volunteers are driving at least an hour to attend a gleaning the VISTA would like to make sure it’s worth their time and gas to get there. The more volunteers the gleaning event has the more pounds of produce the food pantry will be bringing back with them. The more volunteers who work at a gleaning event; the quicker they are to fill a box truck with produce in less time.
While getting as much produce as possible is the main goal of gleaning, the amount of produce a farmer will allow volunteers to pick must be taken into consideration. Thus far the VISTA has found that owners in general do not want more than 1 or 2 truckloads of produce to be taken at a time. Therefore if there are too many volunteers then those trucks will be filled too quickly and people will think they wasted their time.
The way the volunteers act on the orchard can make or break the relationship with the farmers. If the volunteers make a mess or eat fruit of the trees that are meant to go to the food pantry, then they may not wish to continue a partnership. For each gleaning volunteer post the VISTA makes sure to state that everyone will clean up after themselves and that they are responsible for being respectful of the orchard.
Make sure the arrangement with the ‘pick your own orchard’ is a mutually beneficial one. Yes, the pantry is gleaning produce the orchard is unable to sell, however sometimes the orchard needs their orchard to be advertised. A simple three sentence highlight in your agency’s newsletter on volunteering events, could drum up business for the orchard they would not typically see. When your pantry is located in an area where there are a plethora of non-profit pantries and not many agricultural producers, this could be the thing that’s sets one apart from the other.
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 fund raising.
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.