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    Rolling Harvest: Turning food pantries into farmers markets

    by Christine Wolkin

    Since 2010, Rolling Harvest Food Rescue has been delivering donations of fresh products directly from local partnering farms to food pantries and community meal programs serving at-risk, food insecure families in Bucks County, as well as families over the river in Hunderdon and Mercer Counties.

    “We started out just by going out to a local farm market while I was volunteering at a food pantry in the New Hope/Lambertville area,” says Rolling Harvest Executive Director and Founder Cathy Synder.

    Cathy noticed that most of the donations they were receiving at the pantry, Fisherman’s Mark, were mostly canned and dry food, leaving little to no fresh alternatives for the financially struggling families coming for food.

    “The revelation of food-inequality and lack of nutritious choices for the food pantry clients became too stark to ignore,” she said.

    She began asking farmers for donations from what was left over after market hours and quickly realized that going directly to the source resulted in larger donations and a larger variety of fresh produce.

    “We found out that there were so many reasons that there’s so much surplus that if the farmers have help with the logistics, they’re more than happy to donate,” she said.

    She continued, “It can be just from having to grow just enough to satisfy their customer base, they’ve always got to grow more than 20% extra because they’re going to be weather issues, there’s going to be pests, there’s going to be lack of labor. We want to make sure that we’re rescuing all of this and diverting it from landfills to feed people who are really struggling in food insecurity.”

    Rolling Harvest, headquartered in New Hope, fills the logistical gap by collecting donations from fresh, mostly organic produce, as well as meats, from its farm partners when it is most convenient for the farmer. Rolling Harvest’s volunteers help with daily pick-up and delivery schedules from 35 farms and food producers, assist with weekly distributions to more than 60 hunger relief sites, glean (harvest) directly from their farm partners’ fields, and even conduct weekly nutrition education outreach.

    Through its initiative, the organization is addressing two issues, feeding the food insecure in the local community and helping to reduce the amount of food waste in the process. In only seven years, Rolling Harvest has distributed more than 1.4 million pounds of locally-grown fruits and vegetables, serving more than 20,000 neighbors in the region.

    What started off with one farm has now evolved into 36 partner farms and 85 active volunteers.

    “We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of support by the local community, said Cathy.

    As their mission grows, Rolling Harvest encourages individuals throughout Bucks County and surrounding area to lend a hand in any way they can.

    Those interested in volunteering will fall under one of three teams: The Glean Team, which pick surplus crops directly from the farmers’ fields to share with neighbors in need; The Volunteer Drivers and Delivery Team, who assist with farm pickups and deliveries to food distribution sites; and the Nutrition Education Outreach Team, which provides educational cooking demos and provide low-cost recipes and nutrition information to pantry families.

    Volunteers can fill out an application form online at http://rollingharvest.org/volunteer-opportunities. If you’re a farmer looking to partner with Rolling Harvest, visit http://rollingharvest.org/how-to-partner/.

    On Saturday, April 29th, the organization is holding its annual volunteer information meeting. Held at Gravity Hill Farm Event Barn from 9:30 to 11:00am, those who attend will learn amount volunteer opportunities, hear from team members, and enjoy some snacks.

    And on Saturday, July 8th, Rolling Harvest is traveling to Citizens Bank to watch the Phillies host the San Diego Padres. Rolling Harvest Food Rescue seating will be located in Sections 142 at $30 each. That’s an $8 discount off the price of tickets! In addition, $15 from each ticket sold will benefit Rolling Harvest Food Rescue.

    To order tickets, visit http://m.mlb.com/phillies/tickets/splash-page/rollingharvest and use the password ROLLINGHARVEST to purchase your tickets. Please place your order by June 8th. Tickets are subject to availability.

    Also, Rolling Harvest is in immediate need of a new 16-foot refrigerated truck to keep up with deliveries between farmers and food pantries. If you would like to donate, visit https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/keepusrolling?code=newtruck.