It’s been a challenging year for everyone, but for those in our community who struggle to access enough food, this year has been particularly hard. That’s why the Merrymeeting Gleaners (a project of the Merrymeeting Food Council) have been working diligently to assure that as much food as possible is reaching those in need – even in mid-winter, when there is little to glean from local farm fields.
Merrymeeting Gleaners harvests surplus food from 35 local farms and redistribute it to over 30 organizations that support individuals who require help accessing food across 17 towns in the Bath-Brunswick region. Despite facing challenges associated with the need to physically distance, mask, respect the safety needs of farmers and their families, and handle food differently, this year over fifty dedicated gleaning volunteers gathered and harvested almost 52,000 pounds of fresh food from local farm fields and markets to donate to those in need. But they didn’t stop there.
The Merrymeeting Food Council secured emergency funding from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation to purchase food to supplement the emergency food system during the pandemic. The Food Council coordinated emergency funding requests and food distributions with other regional partners including MidCoast Hunger Prevention Program and Good Food for Bath to ensure the food needs of all regional partners were met. Merrymeeting Food Council purchased storage crops from local farms to bolster the supply of fresh foods being distributed by the Gleaners. Local produce and ducks were distributed immediately or processed by volunteers (e.g. cut up butternut squash) or turned into soup in partnership with Bessie’s Farm Goods in Freeport.
In addition, between late December and early February, the Gleaners partnered with Flight Deck Brewing to order nutritious, shelf stable food from Native Maine Produce. This allowed the Gleaners to acquire healthy foods that can easily be stored at room temperature which their partner organizations were having difficulty sourcing for their clients.
“We are so grateful for the partnership with Flight Deck Brewing,” says Merrymeeting Gleaners Coordinator, Kelly Davis. “Working with us to order shelf stable food to supplement the fresh gleaned produce we are donating has allowed us to provide even more support to our partners that are working so hard to meet the increased food needs of our community members.”
Soon, Food Council leaders were able to work with Native Maine to secure a non-profit discount for the purchases. At that point, the purchasing started to go through one of the Food Council’s fiscal sponsors, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (which was already administering the funds) to leverage their non-profit status, while deliveries kept arriving at Flight Deck – a huge help because of their existing delivery and storage capacity.
From Flight Deck, gleaning volunteers distributed the food to those in need across the southern midcoast, including at Mid Coast Community Action Program (Bath, Brunswick and Pejepscot Head Starts), Big Brothers Big Sisters, Wabanaki REACH, Neighborhood Café, River Landing, Richmond Terrace, Bath Housing, Village Clubhouse, Phippsburg Elementary, Family Stone Projects, Bowdoinham Food Pantry, and the Bath Area Food Bank.
Donna Patrick, Resident Services Coordinator for Riverside Landing in Topsham and Richmond Terrace in Richmond, says she has been so grateful for all the food the Gleaners have provided, and really appreciated them going the extra mile by getting non-perishable items during this season when less is available from local farms. “We manage housing for low income, elderly/disabled adults on a fixed income,” said Patrick. “The gleaners deliver to our 36 residents in Topsham and 36 residents in Richmond. This delivery supplements our residents’ diets with healthy, nutritious food they may not otherwise be able to afford. With winter and COVID, food insecurity is a real fear for them. They have asked me, with tears in their eyes, to pass on their gratitude to all for keeping them safe and so well fed.”
In total, the emergency funding allowed more than 5,800 pounds of additional food to be distributed to community members facing food insecurity this winter – with roughly one-third of that food having been locally produced.
The Merrymeeting Gleaners is a program of the Merrymeeting Food Council, which is a collaboration of local organizations working together to take action to increase the production and consumption of local, healthy food. Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust is one of the co-founders and fiscal sponsors of this collaboration.