October 25, 2021

Volunteers gather blueberries to help food pantries

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Kathryn Smith, of Homer, picks blueberries Saturday at Hall’s Hill Blueberry Farm in Cortlandville. Volunteers helped pick blueberries as part of a gleaning event by Seven Valleys Health Coalition in which the berries will be donated to local food pantries.

Though the blueberry season ended three weeks ago at Hall’s Hill Blueberry Farm in Cortlandville, that didn’t mean berries weren’t still left over.

To make sure the berries weren’t left to rot or thrown away, volunteers helped pick the remaining blueberries Saturday in a gleaning event hosted by Seven Valleys Health Coalition. The picked berries would then be donated to local food pantries, said project coordinator Gabrielle DiDomenico.

“We’re really excited and we have a steady flow of volunteers, which is a change from last year,” she said. “I know it’s a beautiful weekend, so it’s hard to not be on vacation or have one of your last summer weekends filled with things to do.”

The Food Bank of Central New York reported last week it has sent 600,000 pounds of food to Cortland County since March 1 and the start of the coronavirus pandemic, up from 250,000 pounds in the same period last year. Other agencies and volunteers have ramped up efforts to stem hunger, too.

About 30 volunteers signed up for this year’s event, double the amount that participated last year, the event’s first year.

DiDomenico said that the event was created last year after the farm’s owner, Jeffrey Hall, who had done work with the coalition’s Cortland Food Project program, said he would be willing to have coalition volunteers pick leftover blueberries for food banks or pantries.

This year, the organization was awarded a $195,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to fund the gleaning event and other programs meant to prevent food waste.

Blueberries would go to the food pantries in Homer and McGraw and then whoever else could move them quickly this week, DiDomenico said.

“It’s awesome,” said Kathryn Smith of Homer. “The weather’s perfect. There’s a few squishy berries because it’s the end of the season, but for the most part I think we’re going to get a lot for the food pantries and I think that’s really cool.”

Smith said she didn’t participate in the event last year as she was unaware of it, but she wanted to be a part of the process for local people getting local, fresh produce.

“It’s so much healthier to get berries from your own community than having to ship them from somewhere,” she said. “It’s healthy and it helps people who don’t have as much.”

Marisa Zogg of McGraw said that it was a good event as it helped both the farm get rid of leftover berries while providing food to local pantries.

“I know a lot of people are struggling right now so it’s important to make sure that our local resources have the food or whatever they need to provide whatever the community needs to get by,” she said.

DiDomenico said that along with helping others, she hoped the volunteers would have and enjoy being able to be outside to enjoy the weather Saturday.

She also said the organization would be happy to host the event next year.

“As long as Jeff (Hall) is open to having us, we’re open to being here,” she said.