When Michael Binger talks about hunger and food insecurity, he focuses on abundance, not scarcity. Farmers grow enough for everyone, he says. We just need to find more ways to share the harvest.
That’s the mission of the Society of St. Andrew – or SoSA – where Binger works as regional director for North Carolina and South Carolina. As the premier food rescue and distribution ministry in the United States, the organization partners with farmers and volunteers to save produce from going to waste and help it reach people in need.
Nationally, SoSA distributed more than 23 million pounds of donated produce last year with the help of 29,000 volunteers and more than 2,300 feeding agencies.
In the Carolinas, 10,500 volunteers gleaned 4.6 million pounds of produce. More than 200 farmers participated; clients at 600 agencies benefited.
This year, with a $50,000 grant from The Duke Endowment, SoSA is working to expand its efforts in rural North Carolina. The Endowment’s support will help more United Methodist churches get involved and increase fresh produce distribution in their communities. SoSA will measure success by tracking the amount of produce rescued and distributed, the number of church volunteers, and the number of participating congregations.
“Food plays a central role in church life and in a congregation’s service to its community,” says Kristen Richardson-Frick, associate director of the Endowment’s Rural Church program area. “As a networking organization, Society of St. Andrew helps churches that may not have the capacity on their own to engage in healthy food system work – and accomplish much together.”
The aim of our support, Richardson-Frick says, is to increase nutrition, reduce disparities and create a better future for rural communities, with the church serving as an anchor institution for positive change.
Learn more below.
1. The Challenge
According to Feeding America, nearly 1.6 million people in North Carolina – or 15 percent of the population – are “food insecure,” which the USDA defines as households that lack consistent access to adequate food. In South Carolina, the number is nearly 690,000, or about 14 percent.
Nationally, the USDA estimates that 41 million people, including nearly 13 million children, are food insecure. That breaks down into 1 in 8 individuals and 1 in 6 children.
At the same time, nearly half of the food grown, processed and transported in the U.S. goes to waste. According to the USDA, the nation throws away 133 billion pounds of food each year, totaling $161 billion.
One major area of food waste is in farm fields, where crops that don’t meet top-grade quality – sweet potatoes that are too big, for example – are left to rot or be plowed under.
2. Connection Point
The Society of St. Andrew connects the abundance of food available at the farm level with people who need it. In the Carolinas, SoSA has operated a volunteer-driven Gleaning Network since 1992. Farmers can claim federal tax credits for their donations.
3. Field Work
Gleaning is the traditional practice of gathering crops that are left in the fields after harvest. SoSA’s Gleaning Network coordinates volunteers, growers, and service agencies to salvage and distribute this food.
Volunteer gleaners harvest everything from strawberries to collard greens – and even tilapia from a sustainable fishery on the edge of Charlotte.
4. Potato (and Kale) Drops
SoSA also gleans truckloads of potatoes and other produce that are rejected by commercial markets or potato chip factories due to slight imperfections. At donation “drops,” volunteers can bag and distribute thousands of pounds of potatoes at a time.
“We often get calls from very small congregations that want to make a huge impact in their communities,” says Meg Spears-Newsome, director of the Potato and Produce Project at SoSA. “They sponsor a 40,000-pound potato drop in their parking lot and volunteers roll up their sleeves and help their neighbors receive fresh food that would otherwise be wasted.”
5. Getting Involved
SoSA’s volunteer base is growing, but more people are needed. “We have about 100 million pounds of food available to be gleaned every year in the Carolinas,” Binger says. “Last year, we gleaned five million.”
You can help by:
- Volunteering with Society of St. Andrew.
- Attending the 2019 Come to the Table Conference March 12-13 in Charlotte. Supported by funding from The Duke Endowment, the regional events began in 2007 as a venue for sharing knowledge, encouragement and connections. This year’s workshops will focus on food policy, community agriculture, wellness, resources for farmers and racial equity. Registration is available on the day of the conference. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kristen R. Richardson-Frick
Associate Director, Rural Church