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USDA Picks Vegetables for the Hungry

By Sharon Durham
November 24, 1999

As the holiday season approaches, thoughts turn not only to gift shopping but to the needy. In that spirit, dozens of U.S. Department of Agriculture employees gathered last month to pick 550 pounds of green beans to feed the hungry. The beans came from research fields at the Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center (BARC), operated by the Agricultural Research Service, USDA’s chief scientific agency.

It was part of the department’s annual Food Recovery and Gleaning Initiative. This year’s program, called "Building Partnerships to End Hunger," runs through Dec. 16. As part of USDA’s food drive, employees picked vegetables from ARS’ Beltsville research plots to provide food for programs such as Food for Others and the Washington Area Gleaning Network Service (WAGNS). ARS labs at other locations are also involved in gleaning efforts with local groups in their communities.

In addition to providing vegetables for the food drive, USDA's gleaning program operates continuously throughout the year, offering fresh produce to various local programs. At Beltsville, over 60,000 pounds of potatoes, tomatoes, sweet corn, green beans, cantaloupe, squash, cucumbers and apples were picked and donated this year. It is estimated that over 110,000 pounds of produce will be donated by year-end.

Volunteer pickers at Beltsville include incoming first-year students from the University of Maryland's Scholars Group, middle-school science students and teachers, and members of Girl Scout troops.

Food for Others, based in Fairfax, Va., feeds as many as 700 people each night at 15 sites in Northern Virginia and supplies food to about 50 other organizations in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area. Local grocery stores provide bags for the effort.

Throughout the year, USDA also allows WAGNS to harvest surplus vegetables for distribution. WAGNS distributes the harvested bounty to the Capital Area Community Food Bank in Washington; Maryland Food Bank, Inc.; and soup kitchens, shelters and housing projects in the Baltimore-Washington region. The Capital Area Community Food Bank redistributes the food to about 950 feeding programs.

Other gleaning activities at ARS labs nationwide include:

  • The Avian Disease and Oncology Research Unit, East Lansing, Mich., donates about 10,000 eggs from healthy chickens to the Greater Lansing Food Bank each year. The Sugarbeet and Bean Research Lab in East Lansing harvested, cleaned and donated dry beans to the Greater Lansing Food Bank.

For more information about national organizations, their affiliates and independent groups in food recovery and gleaning, contact John Van De Vaarst of ARS at (301) 504-5664.

Scientific contact: John Van De Vaarst, Facilities Management and Operations Division, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center Beltsville, MD, (301) 504-5664, .

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