This op-ed was written by Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Ryan Quarles. It has appeared in print in Kentucky Today, Georgetown News-Graphic, Hopkinsville Kentucky New Era, and Northern Kentucky Tribune.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells his listeners a parable, foreshadowing Judgment Day. In the middle of that story, the Son of Man says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink … Amen, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35, 40).
The issue of hunger is something that affects more people than you think. In fact, 1 in 6 Kentuckians, and 1 in 5 Kentucky children, are food insecure. When I was elected your Commissioner of Agriculture, I knew our farm community could play a unique role in reducing hunger.
Within months of starting my new job, I launched the Kentucky Hunger Initiative, a first-of-its-kind effort in our state to bring together farmers, charitable organizations, faith groups, community leaders, and government entities to look for ways to reduce hunger in Kentucky. I traveled the state, holding public meetings along the way to talk about what was working and what wasn’t.
I also met with volunteer organizations that had been fighting on the front lines of hunger relief for years. One of the organizations I met was GleanKY.
GleanKY is a nonprofit hunger-relief organization whose mission is to address two related but distinct problems: food waste and hunger. They decided to focus on how they could take Kentucky’s leftover agricultural abundance and get it into the hands of those who need it most. GleanKY gathers excess produce from farms and delivers it to more than 80 food pantries and other charitable feeding agencies – for free.
As you may know, the practice of gleaning comes to us from the Old Testament. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read, “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deuteronomy 24:21). We also read in the Book of Ruth how the book’s namesake was able to feed herself and her mother-in-law, Naomi, by collecting the leftover crops from the fields because Boaz instructed his workers to leave enough behind for her to glean (Ruth 2:15-16).
GleanKY does the important work of collecting the produce from volunteers and getting it into the hands of those who need it most. They are doing a good job of it, too. When GleanKY began in 2010, they largely focused on Lexington-Fayette County. Now they have the ambitious goal of expanding their organization to all 120 counties across the Commonwealth.
GleanKY’s challenge is to connect three groups of people: landowners with excess fruits and other food to donate; nearby charitable feeding agencies that are equipped to distribute the donated food; and groups of volunteers who are ready to go out in the fields, collect the foods, and deliver it to the agencies. That’s where you come in – by organizing a team of volunteers in your community to harvest the food and deliver it to those who feed the hungry.
One of the limitations holding GleanKY back is a lack of volunteers. In speaking with GleanKY executive director Stephanie Wooten, she says reaching regular volunteer groups committed to reducing hunger is something they need in order to expand their reach.
That brings me back to Matthew. The message Jesus tells us is that we should use the gifts and resources we have to glorify Him and help our brothers and sisters. It’s a theme that runs throughout His ministry.
The face of hunger is different in every community. GleanKY has a service model that helps reach Kentuckians in need. I encourage you to apply to be a “Gleaner” in your community by visiting gleanky.org. You and your church family can help fill the need in your community and bring about a well-fed Kentucky.