Tons of excess produce that otherwise might go to waste is being used to feed people in need through The Gleaning Project of South Central PA.

Abby McElhiney, the coordinator of the Franklin County branch of the South Central Community Action Program effort, recently spoke to members of the Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce.

"Save Food. Do Good. The Gleaning Project collects excess, fresh produce from farms and gardens in South Central PA and gets it to those who need it the most," read cards placed on the tables at the breakfast meeting.

Worried about food 

Food insecurity "affects a lot more than you think," she said. In a 2016 survey, 50 million Americans answered "yes" to these three questions:

Have you worried about running out of food before having money to buy more? Have you relied on only a few kinds of low cost food? Have you skipped a meal or cut a portion so your kids could eat?

In the Chambersburg Area School District, 50 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches and the number climbs to 100 percent at two of the district elementary schools, she said.

A Chambersburg native who returned to the area after graduating from Taylor University and living in Chicago for six years, McElhiney said the cost of living is high in the local area and many jobs are not well-paying. A single parent with two children needs to work two or three jobs to meet basic living expenses.

Growing, gleaning and more

Growers are not always able to sell everything they plant or the produce may be less than perfect, McElhiney. For example, Tracey's Orchards outside Shady Grove sets aside bins of apples and pears that are slightly bruised or too small to sell for The Gleaning Project.

Food loss on farms and orchards is estimated at 20 percent. McElhiney said farmers have to overplant in anticipation of problems such as rain or pests. When they have too much, growers are left with questions of whether to pay to have it harvested or mow it down and plant something else.

"This is where SCCAP and The Gleaning Project come in," she said. "We get to partner with them for in-field gleaning."

She showed pictures of smiling volunteers and said, "Gleaning is great exercise, social and it makes you feel good."

In addition to in-field gleaners, volunteer food movers, food savers, produce stand attendants and gleaning gardeners also are needed.

Many of the fruits and vegetables are distributed to community agencies, including four in the Greencastle-Antrim area.

SCCAP also operates a stand with free produce for anyone who needs it at 533 S. Main St., Chambersburg, three days a week from July to November. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays.

By the numbers 

Here are results for 2017 from The Gleaning Project of South Central PA:

Over 300,000 pounds of fresh, local produce was recovered from farms and gardens and delivered to more than 26,000 community members. 51 farmers and 70 backyard gardeners donated their excess produce to The Gleaning Project. Over 100 community partners helped distribute gleaned produce to people in need. 1,100 volunteers donated 4,500 hours to help reduce waste and improve nutrition in the region.

For more information on The Gleaning Project of South Central PA, call 717-492-6269, email thegleaningproject.com or visit www.thegleaningproject.com.

The Gleaning Project also is on Facebook and Instagram.