September 16, 2021

Feeding while teaching

Local agency partners with farm to harvest, or glean, leftover crops

Shenandoah Briere/contributing photographer

Delta Barber, 15, cuts a head of lettuce from its stem Monday at Main Street Farms in Cortlandville. Barber was one of about 10 people harvesting leftover crops at the farm as part of a project with the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Charlotte Love bent down, brushed the lettuce leaves over until she could see the stem and chopped down, removing the large dark green lettuce head from the stem. She then put it in a container to be brought to Cortland Loaves and Fishes.

Love was one of about 10 people from the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District gleaning — harvesting leftover crops — Monday at Main Street Farms on Route 215 in Cortlandville — and donating them to Cortland Loaves and Fishes, a soup kitchen.

The harvesting event is the start of a new program through the organization to “educate people about how to harvest their own food, as well as promote interest in eating fresh vegetables,” said Amanda Barber, the director of the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“We think that will encourage people to want to grow them, too,” she said.

The program is funded by a $30,000 grant from the National Association of Conservation Districts to support urban agriculture conservation.

The program will also help feed people. More than 6,000 people in Cortland County — nearly one person in eight — are food insecure. They lack good access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.

“As a farmer we want to feed people — we’re in the business of feeding people,” said Robert “Bobcat” Bonagura, co-owner of Main Street Farms. But he said he also has to produce crops to keep the lights on.

However, after the harvest is through and excess remains, there’s not much he can do with it except give the excess produce away, but then he has to account for labor costs, or till them.

With this program he’s able to reduce farm waste, get people on to the farm to get the leftovers, while learning about what work goes into growing produce and “the added bonus is we’re donating all this local organic food to Loaves and Fishes to people who may not otherwise be able to afford it,” he said.

It isn’t just Loaves and Fishes that will benefit though, said conservation aide Marissa Phelps. Other organizations can come get some of the crops, too.

“I’ve still got a couple weeks open,” Phelps said.

The gleaning project goes through October and is every two weeks.