The cherry and apricot trees in La Luz, N.M., were still loaded with fruit when a group of U.S. Forest Service employees joined forces with Roadrunner Food Bank and La Montanita Co-op last week to glean fresh, healthy produce for people in need.
Our hosts at the Nichols Ranch and Orchard gave us the opportunity to pick 1,000 pounds of cherries and apricots as part of the Feds Feed Families campaign, a national initiative to help food banks and pantries stay stocked during the summer months when they traditionally see a decrease in donations and an increase in need.
(Fresh, ripe cherries in the orchard, ready for picking.)
The Forest Service was well represented by employees from the nearby Lincoln National Forest as well as a handful of folks from the Albuquerque Service Center. After a safety briefing, we headed out to the trees and the three-legged orchard ladders. We were lucky enough to work under New Mexico’s beautiful blue skies both days, and the harvest was indeed bountiful.
(The fruit trees at Nichols Ranch and Orchard during last week’s gleaning event.)
Gleaning, the practice of collecting “leftover” crops from farmer’s fields, is making a comeback. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 96 billion pounds of food is left in fields across the country. It’s a perfect fit for Feds Feed Families, giving us the opportunity to add fresh fruits and vegetables to the non-perishable food donations we collect throughout the summer for food banks. By joining forces in our communities, we can bring the food that will not make it to market directly to the dinner tables of families who face hunger.
(A U.S. Forest Service employee volunteering his time to harvest produce for families in need.)
The La Luz gleaning was the first of the 2014 campaign, and the results are two-fold. Not only do we have a positive impact on food insecurity in New Mexico but we also strengthen the community ties that bind us all together. It is a good feeling at the end of the day to know that you are making a real difference in the lives of 40,000 fellow New Mexicans – 40% of whom are under 18 – who face the prospect of going to bed hungry.
Jennifer McDowell is USDA-Forest Service Champion for Feds Feed Families.