The helping hands of Fields of Grace glean thousands of pounds of Washington-grown produce each year to feed hungry people in the Mid-Columbia.
The chairman of the Fields of Grace board of directors, Gerry Berges, gleans Gala apples with his wife Cathy at Charbonneau Farms in Burbank.
This grassroots, volunteer-driven nonprofit works with Second Harvest to get fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms and orchards onto the tables of children, families and seniors in need.
“It’s a great collaboration with Second Harvest. It’s a wonderful partnership,” said John Neill, who volunteers as executive director for Fields of Grace.
Fields of Grace was established nine years ago as a ministry of West Side Church in Richland. The program makes it possible for local growers to donate more of their crops to Second Harvest and its food bank network. Trained volunteers of all ages provide the labor to glean surplus and unmarketable fresh produce that is perfectly good to eat, but might otherwise go to waste.
Apples, peaches, pears, apricots, potatoes, corn, watermelon, carrots, cherries, plums, grapes, prunes and tomatoes are among the more than 40 different crops that Fields of Grace has collected over the years. With last year’s banner growing season, more than 200 volunteers helped Fields of Grace collect a record 500,000 pounds of produce – almost half of the more than 1 million pounds gleaned in its history.
Volunteers from Central Church join with Fields of Grace regulars to pick nearly 4,000 pounds of apples at Ray French U-Pick Orchard in West Richland.
A mild winter, very hot summer and other challenges have contributed to fewer gleaning opportunities this year. Even so, Fields of Grace is nearing 300,000 pounds with about a month and a half left of the gleaning season. Some of this has come from other sources, including residential gleanings and direct donations from farmers markets and food processors.
“We’re grateful for all of the growers in our agriculturally rich region who dedicate some of their crops to our hunger-relief work. Our hard-working partners at Fields of Grace do an incredible job connecting us with more of this nutritious, farm-fresh food,” said Jason Clark, president and CEO of Second Harvest.
Fields of Grace can be replicated in other communities that have the capital and volunteer base to support it, Neill said. He would love to share the Fields of Grace service model with interested groups in the Yakima Valley and other areas.
Fields of Grace is built on ensuring a positive experience for hundreds of volunteers and several food producers to get healthy food to people struggling with hunger in the Mid-Columbia. Neill, who previously volunteered as executive director of the Tri-Cities Food Bank for five years, knows what this fresh produce means to meeting the need in the community.
“A heartfelt thank you to all of our volunteers for their efforts,” said Neill, who adds these dedicated people also contribute their own transportation to get to gleaning events that can be 10 to 15 miles out of town – often with only a few days notice. “Area growers are willing to give and don’t want that good food to go to waste either. At the end of the day, it’s all about helping us help people who need it.”
To connect with Fields of Grace as a grower or a volunteer, go to www.fields-of-grace.com.