Volunteers bring in the bounty for needy

Gleaners harvest farmers’ surplus crops, with most of it going to hungry families

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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Did you know?

Urban Abundance asks farmers for permission to harvest surplus vegetables and enlists volunteer gleaners who collect them for food banks that help hungry families.

In Harvesting our Urban Orchards, folks register their fruit and nut trees with Urban Abundance and volunteers harvest the bounty. In both programs, volunteers keep a small share for themselves.

Urban Abundance in January is launching its Fruit Tree Steward Program, which will offer free classes and field sessions in organic tree care, starting with basic tree biology, winter pruning and spring pest and disease control. In return, those Clark County residents will be asked to volunteer their new skills and time caring for registered trees.

Source: Urban Abundance.

You can help

Kim Hack can be reached at 971-285-7372 or harvest@myurbanabundance.org.

Kim Hack, a 23-year-old VISTA volunteer who’s targeting poverty, knows there’s plenty of fresh food hidden in the ground and dangling from trees.

More than enough to feed local families who may be short of cash these days.

It’s just a matter of asking farmers for permission to go after surplus crops they can’t sell, and arranging for volunteer gleaners to harvest it in return for a small share.

The majority goes to local food banks.

“It’s not fighting hunger,” said Hack, who’s taking a break from environmental science classes at Portland State University. “It’s creating abundance. This is food that otherwise would go to waste.”

Hack is the gleaning coordinator for Urban Abundance and the Clark County Food Bank.

On two weekends in December, a handful of gleaners went to work at Purple Rain Vineyard, a certified organic farm in Hockinson.

On Saturday, Dec. 17, “Six volunteers harvested 491.5 pounds of root vegetables, rutabaga, parsnips, leeks, shallots and onions,” Hack said in an email. “Thirty-six pounds went home with volunteers and the remainder to the

St. Vincent De Paul food pantry in Vancouver.”

Purple Rain is the first farm Hack has worked with. It’s a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm, meaning that it sells subscriptions to members prior to the growing season for deliveries of colorful seasonal produce.

Owners Luisa DePaiva and James Voisin work their gardens with a joyous approach to fresh food.

“In 1989, we began creating our dream potage garden (a kitchen garden),” they say on their website, Purple Rain Vineyard. “The French word potage translated to English is soup. The principal of a potage garden is a diversity of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers, in a colorful and structured design.

“A potage garden is a romance that connects the earth to the plate, as Europeans have known for centuries.

“By sharing the food we grow, our partnership with the land and our philosophy, we then celebrate with you, your family and friends the connection of seasonal foods and the earth.”

Such fresh foods are a far cry from the canned foods that many drives collect, although both are very important. The virtues of canned foods are they are non-perishable, can contain meat for protein and don’t really require cooking.

And few people would argue against the nutritional value and flavor of fresh, seasonal, organic vegetables and fruits.

Some might ask how younger folks would know how to cook things like rutabagas, similar to turnips, and parsnips, which resemble white carrots, but it’s not that hard.

After scrubbing them with a clean brush in fresh water, peeling them and cutting them up, you can bake or boil them, with or without meats.

Many French restaurants serve a puréed parsnip soup, which has a sweet earthy flavor.

In many areas of northern Europe, folks like to serve rutabagas scrubbed, peeled, chopped, boiled and mashed with butter. You can even put a few thin slices, raw or cooked, in a salad.

Here’s a fun fact for readers who listened to the strange, comical, sarcastic and deliberately unpleasant music of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention around the late 1960s and 1970s: Zappa mentioned rutabagas several times in his song “Call any Vegetable,” which continued, “And the chances are good that a vegetable will respond to you.”

As for leeks, they can be washed, trimmed, split to check for insects and eaten raw or used to flavor soups and stir-fries. The tough, dark-green leek tops are discarded. Leek and potato soups, served hot or cold, are pleasing and popular.

Shallots are simply small onions with their own flavor and are used around the world in many ways: salads, soups, stir-frys, baked dishes, condiments and so on.

As with leeks, taste a slice raw and then cook the rest, and see what you think.

Purple Rain’s website has recipes, some from Whole Foods Market.

To avoid the soil and its microorganisms too much during their Dec. 17 gleaning session, the volunteers wore gloves, used a pitchfork to loosen the soil to release the shallots and parsnips, and had knives to cut away the roots and tops.

This winter, Hack said, her job will be contacting more growers, restaurant associations, neighborhood associations, volunteers and others to get more people involved in gleaning projects, including those involving fruit and nut trees.

Fresh food on a much larger scale is being grown at Heritage Farm, the former county poor farm along Northeast 78th Street in Hazel Dell, said Bill Coleman, secretary-treasurer of the board of the Clark County Food Bank.

For the past three years, thousands and thousands of pounds of carrots and mixed vegetables have been grown there.

In addition, the food bank recently received 40,000 pounds each of potatoes and onions. Some is in the food bank’s large coolers and some is being distributed quickly.

Urban Abundance, Hack said, is a Clark County affiliate of the Slow Food movement, which had its roots in Italy with the building of a McDonald’s there years ago.

According to the movement’s website, http://www.slowfood.com: “Slow Food is a global, grass-roots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment.

“A non-profit member-supported association, Slow Food was founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”

The movement prizes nutrition but is not against eating meat, Hack said.

Hack said she receives a very small living allowance as a VISTA volunteer, much lower than minimum wage, and later will receive funds to help with college costs.

According to its website: “AmeriCorps VISTA is the national service program designed specifically to fight poverty. Authorized in 1964 and founded as Volunteers in Service to America in 1965, VISTA was incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs in 1993. VISTA has been on the front lines in the fight against poverty in America for more than 45 years.”

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.