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How Kansas City Food Banks Are Feeding Hungry People With Rescued Vegetables

072820_SH_Clay Jarratt gleaning corn
Suzanne Hogan
KCUR 89.3
On an early morning at Voigt's Farm in Wellsville, Kansas, Clay Jarratt walks through the fields gleaning ears of corn that were not harvested.

Area food banks have seen increased demand during the coronavirus pandemic. Gleaning is one of the ways they get fresh produce into the hands of those who need it.

The pandemic is making it harder for families to put food on the table.

In the Kansas City area, pre-pandemic, 300 thousand people were at risk for hunger. But that number is now up by 100 thousand people. That includes 1 and 4 children.

Food distribution rates from hunger relief organizations like Harvesters are up 2 million pounds from this time last year.

And social service agencies like Crosslines Community Outreach in Kansas City, Kansas have doubled the amount of households they are serving at their pantry.

"I think there's a lot of people that are feeling kind of helpless during this time," says Sarah Kaldenberg who is the Commodities and Garden Manager at Crosslines.

But she says, "I think gleaning is kind of a way to say like there are solutions. There's actually food in our country to feed these people."

07282_SH_Mary Dees After The Harvest gleaning corn
Suzanne Hogan
KCUR 89.3
Mary Dees is a volunteer for After The Harvest's V.E.G. Squad. Vegetable Emergency Gleaning squad. They make themselves available to glean anytime so that produce does not go to waste.

Gleaning, the process of harvesting leftover crops, has been around as long as agriculture has. Maybe a machine just didn't get to it. Maybe it didn't make enough economic sense to harvest it because of changing markets. Or maybe it was just too small or ugly to try to sell.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic increased food insecurity, gleaning groups like After The Harvest in Kansas City were doing this work a way to address food waste and hunger.

"It's kind of a no-brainer. It's a win-win across the board," says Zachary Callaway, an organizer for the group. But Callaway says that now, the need to glean is even more critical than before.

"Basically every pantry, every kitchen, every organization that we talk to has expressed that their client base has grown," he says.

072920_SH_Zachary Callaway and Sarah Kaldenberg at Crosslines in KCK
Suzanne Hogan
KCUR 89.3
Zachary Callaway with After The Harvest and Sarah Kaldenberg at Crosslines Community Outreach undloading bags of gleaned peppers from Rich Kraft's farm.

And it's not just in Kansas City. According to Feeding America, 1 in 6 people may experience food insecurity in the U.S. this year. That number is up 17 million people compared to this time last year.

At Crosslines Community Outreach, the gleaned produce from After the Harvest is the main source of fresh produce they distribute to their clients.

Carrie Fayebrake visits the pantry regularly. She's homeless and says the food she regularly gets from here is a huge help.

"I eat a lot of things that's in the wilderness," says Fayebrake.

When an intern at Crosslines asks Fayebrake what she likes about coming to this particular pantry she replies, "You guys have the vegetables."

072820_SH_Carrie Fayebrake at Crosslines Community
Suzanne Hogan
KCUR 89.3
Carrie Fayebrake has been homeless for 15 years. She says her faith and the food she gets from Crosslines Community Outreach in Kansas City, Kansas help her survive.

Fayebrake's pack is stuffed full with tomatoes and carrots. She has a watermelon and a plastic bag full of peppers that After The Harvest volunteers and Zachary Callaway gleaned just the day before from Rich Kraft's farm near Kearney, Missouri.

"They'll take a pepper that had a little worm hole in it, or it had an imperfection. And they'll take that and thank you for it and away you go," Kraft says of the volunteers.

Rich Kraft gave up on trying to make money on his small, imperfect peppers years ago. He says offering his crop up to be gleaned gets at the root of what growing food is really all about for him.

"Instead of just throwing it away, they'll actually take it and eat it. And that's pretty cool, I like that," says Kraft.

After The Harvest has already gleaned more than 800,000 pounds of produce this year, including Rich Kraft's peppers. They say as long as there's extra produce out there, and hungry people, there's gleaning to be done.

Every part of the present has been shaped by actions that took place in the past, but too often that context is left out. As a podcast producer for KCUR Studios and host of the podcast A People’s History of Kansas City, I aim to provide context, clarity, empathy and deeper, nuanced perspectives on how the events and people in the past have shaped our community today. In that role, and as an occasional announcer and reporter, I want to entertain, inform, make you think, expose something new and cultivate a deeper shared human connection about how the passage of time affects us all. Reach me at hogansm@kcur.org.
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