Slow growing season impacts gleaning efforts

By Katie Demeria

WINCHESTER — Owen Dofflemyer, 9, and Braedon Dofflemyer, 12, of Loudoun County, heaved bags of green beans toward a gray van already filled with them.

They were there with their mother Wendi Dofflemyer, who said she was hoping to teach them about the importance of giving back to the community.

The Dofflemyers work with Betty Heishman, district gleaning coordinator with the Society of St. Andrew, who emails them when farmers have fields available for harvesting. The produce then goes to those in the community who need it most.

But this year, Heishman has not been able to send as many emails as she usually does. She said farmers are experiencing slow starts to their seasons, which impacts opportunities for gleaners.

Last year, Heishman said, the volunteers had something to glean or pick up every day in July. This year, though, they are hopeful to go out a few times a week.

“Every year it’s different, but it seems to me that every year we’ll have one crop failure and then something else will come and fill in, and we don’t seem to fall behind on how many pounds we fill in,” Heishman said.

So far this year, John Marker of Marker Miller Orchards was able to provide apples from storage.

“We were able to pull out about 4,000 pounds of apples, bagged them up and send them all around to the area, to different food pantries and the food bank,” Heishman said.

Marker has also been able to give the gleaners part of his green bean field, which, he said, has done very well.

The bad winter, along with some dry spots where rain has not reached certain fields, has caused farmers to fall behind on their crops. And that means that the agencies the gleaners serve may not receive as much produce.

“It’s been a slow start,” Heishman said. “We give to about 65 agencies. They’re all over the area, in a 90-mile radius from Winchester.”

Heishman said some agencies do depend on the gleaners, at least partially, for their produce. Especially those near Washington, D.C., where there are no nearby farms.

“Our local food bank has noticed [that] the produce is a little skimpy,” Heishman said. “But I’m really hopeful that it’s going to pick up, and if one crop falls behind then another might take its place. We’re hoping that’s what happens.”

Many of those they serve, Heishman added, have no other way of getting produce. Many are seniors or have very low incomes and cannot afford to take their children, for example, to the produce aisle.

“With the need that there is at this point in the community, all over the area, it’s really not good that we have all this excess and let it go to waste, because some of these people never get fresh produce,” she said.

To volunteer or to donate produce, contact Heishman at gleaningworks@gmail.com.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com