This summer, I will be transitioning out of my position as the South Central Kentucky Field Coordinator for Glean Kentucky. As I prepare to hand over the ropes to our next Field Coordinator (applications are open on our Careers page!), I am reflecting on my time with Glean Kentucky and the regional gleaning program that I have been working to develop over the past nine months. Saying goodbye is bittersweet, but I am excited to see how Glean Kentucky’s program in South Central Kentucky continues to grow and make an impact.
Building this program has come with many challenges. The pandemic has limited opportunities for volunteer engagement. Additionally, to my knowledge, no formal, widely known gleaning initiative existed in the Bowling Green area prior to Glean Kentucky’s expansion. Because the relatively few food recovery and gleaning programs that do exist in Bowling Green and the surrounding communities are not well known, there is a limited understanding of the need for, or importance of, gleaning in the community. While these factors have presented challenges to program development, they have also underscored the need for a gleaning program in South Central Kentucky. Food insecurity is a serious issue that has only been exacerbated by the economic downturn that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are a number of feeding programs for people experiencing food insecurity in Bowling Green, only a limited number of these programs currently have the capacity to store and distribute produce. For the programs that do accept and distribute produce, sourcing fruits and vegetables is often an issue. On the side of produce growers, I have found that many farmers want to get their surplus produce to people in need, but they are often deterred by limits on their time and resources, as well as little available information about programs that distribute fresh food to people in need. While the lack of a fresh produce recovery and distribution infrastructure in Bowling Green and the surrounding communities has brought challenges to the development of our program, it is also clear that there is an incredible need and opportunity to develop an infrastructure for gleaning here.
Since last fall, many milestones have been achieved in our second region of service. At least sixteen volunteers and I have gleaned produce in Warren, Barren, Allen, and Logan counties. Every week for the past eight months, we have gleaned surplus produce from the Community Farmers Market in Bowling Green. Ten local farms have donated surplus produce on at least one occasion since our program launched, and several have donated produce almost every week. Our work is just beginning, but we have already developed many incredible partnerships with local stakeholders, and several impactful collaborations are in the works.
In July, I will join the staff at a national nonprofit organization called Food Recovery Network. In my new position, I will help advise students as they form and grow food recovery programs at colleges and universities around the country. I will take the lessons that I learned from developing a gleaning program here in South Central Kentucky to help support and provide troubleshooting for students as they carry out food recoveries (and in some cases, gleanings). I am so proud of the gleaning work that has already been accomplished here, and I know that Glean Kentucky’s work in this region will make a huge impact towards feeding people in need and reducing food waste.