Gleaning

Volunteers Kevin Psarianos and Carolyn Zangara, of Hamilton Twp in Mercer County, pick string beans at Fernbrook Farm in Bordentown, Monday Aug. 22, 2016. Beans and tomatoes collected today were donated to The Catherdral Kitchen in Camden where chefs prepare meals for the needy. (Michael Ein/Staff Photographer)

Michael Ein / Staff Photographer

Almost 340,000 children in New Jersey - 17 percent of the state's kids - face hunger. That is almost one in five, according to Community FoodBank of New Jersey figures. So community programs and schools step in to help alleviate children's hunger.

And we want hungry children to eat healthy foods, not overly processed treats.

More than 1 million people in New Jersey - 12 percent of us - don't always know where the next meal is coming from, according to FoodBank figures. So food pantries and soup kitchens step in to help families and individuals facing food insecurity, one meal at a time, one grocery bag at a time.

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We also want hungry people to have access to fresh foods, not overly processed convenience items.

When farmers harvest, not all the food they grow makes it to the grocery store, farm stand or produce auction. Food remains in the fields and on the vine. It may be "ugly," misshapen or the wrong size. It may not be attractive enough to sell.

But it is still good to eat, if someone picks it.

And there is a lot of it.

About 7 percent of U.S. planted fields are not harvested each year, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported in 2012. A six-year average showed at least 97,000 U.S. acres of fruit and vegetable row crops went unharvested, the NRDC said, citing U.S. Department of Agriculture figures.

Feeding America estimated more than 6 billion pounds each year of U.S. fresh produce goes unharvested or unsold, the NRDC said.

The New Jersey Agricultural Society's Farmers Against Hunger Program raised more than 1.4 million pounds of food for New Jersey's hungry last year. About 600,000 pounds of it came from gleaning and farmers donating leftover produce.

About 55 New Jersey farms supply produce to the society, and about 20 let volunteers glean their fields. The volunteers together can pick thousands of pounds of produce per day.

The Bridgeton-based Gateway Community Action Partnership said its gleaning program took in more than 300,000 pounds of fresh produce from South Jersey farmers last year.

That's a lot of fresh food that would have gone to waste.

Gleaning may not be enough to solve the state's hunger problem, but it is enough to make a dent.

It would be unconscionable to leave that produce rotting in the field, when the grower is willing to feed the hungry with it.

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