Heirloom seed sale will help take mind off winter, feed neighbors

February 17, 2015

Looking for ways to cope with a foot of snow, single-digit temperatures and the virtual shutdown of Kentucky? Try sitting back, pouring a cup of coffee and planning your spring garden.

Then, when you have it all planned, make plans go to Woodland Christian Church on Feb. 28 for Glean KY’s seventh annual heirloom seed sale.

seedsaleThe sale is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the church, 530 East High Street, across from Woodland Park. There will be seeds for a wide variety of vegetables and herbs — most of which you can’t buy at a big-box store.

“There’s a real market for these heirloom seeds, and I think we have just scratched the surface of that,” said Erica Horn, an attorney and accountant who helped start Glean KY and is its volunteer president. “It’s almost like a backyard gardener’s expo.”

Stephanie Wooten, Glean KY’s executive director and its only full-time employee, said the sale will offer information as well as seeds.

“We just finished a really great seed catalog that has all the instructions you need,” she said. “And we hope to have some experts at the sale so that as you are making your purchase, you can ask questions.”

The sale is the biggest annual fundraiser for Glean KY, formerly known as Faith Feeds, which for nearly five years has collected food that might otherwise have gone to waste and made it available to poor people.

Last year, Glean KY’s more than 300 volunteers collected nearly 270,000 pounds of surplus fruit and vegetables. The produce was redistributed through more than 50 Central Kentucky charities and organizations.

“We fill the gap by doing the labor to pick up that excess and get it to folks who distribute it to people who need it,” Horn said.

Glean KY began as Faith Feeds in March 2010. It was the brainchild of John Walker, an avid gardener who grew more food than he and his neighbors could use. He knew that there were many hungry people in Lexington, and he had heard of gleaning organizations elsewhere that tried to match surplus food with need.

photoVolunteers make regular stops at food stores to pick up produce and packaged foods nearing their sales-expiration date. The biggest suppliers include Costco Wholesale, Good Foods Co-op and Whole Foods Market.

During the growing season, volunteers also collect surplus produce from the Lexington and Bluegrass farmers markets, the University of Kentucky’s South Farm and Reed Valley Orchard near Paris.

That food is then taken to agencies including the Catholic Action Center, Nathaniel Mission and First Presbyterian Church that distribute food or meals to people in need.

Horn recalled the day after Thanksgiving last year when she picked up about 25 prepared vegetable trays that Costco had left over.

“I dropped them off at the Catholic Action Center, and when I was leaving the building, I could hear them in the kitchen roaring with excitement,” she said.

“I’ve been privileged to be involved with a lot of groups,” Horn said. “But I’ve never done anything that fulfills me personally as much as this group does.”

Most of Glean KY’s money comes from individual donations, which have grown from $2,000 in 2010 to about $50,000 last year. Other support has come from grants and fundraising events such as the heirloom seed sale.

Last November, the organization bought a van to help transport food with grants from the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels and Beaumont Presbyterian Church.

Another successful distribution network for Glean KY food is Christian and Tanya Torp’s home in Lexington’s East End neighborhood. For the past four years, they have picked up surplus from Whole Foods each Friday, and from Bluegrass Farmers Market each Saturday during the growing season.

The food is distributed to 20 to 40 people in their neighborhood, including several elderly and shut-in residents. Christian Torp, a lawyer who is on Glean KY’s board, also teaches classes for his neighbors in canning and food preservation.

The Torps hope to train other volunteers to do the same thing in their own neighborhoods. (Those interested in that or other volunteer opportunities can contact the organization at Gleanky.org.)

“It’s not just a handout thing,” Torp said. “Our point in doing this is to build community. It’s a beautiful representation of being neighbors.”


As we give thanks, let’s give some help

November 25, 2009

As many of us prepare a big Thanksgiving dinner, it’s worth thinking about neighbors who won’t be so lucky.

There are more of them than usual.

In fact, food bank directors across Kentucky say there are more of them than they’ve ever seen before.

A report last week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the number of American households struggling to feed themselves rose by 4 million in 2008, to a total of 17 million.

The report estimated that one in seven U.S. households — 49 million Americans — were “food insecure” (meaning without enough food) at times last year. It was the highest rate since the study began in 1995, and it included 506,000 families with children.

The numbers were based on a scientific survey of 44,000 households, including 1,881 in Kentucky.

When viewed state by state, food insecurity among Kentucky households was a little above the average, at 12.6 percent, with 4.4 percent of households considered “very insecure.” Kentucky’s numbers have been steady in recent years, although they’re much higher than they were in the late 1990s.

“We’re seeing a lot of folks who have never accessed food assistance before,” said Marian Guinn, chief executive of God’s Pantry, which operates a food bank in Lexington and supplies food to banks in 50 counties.

God’s Pantry and other Kentucky food banks report that demand is up about 30 percent from last year. October was God’s Pantry’s biggest month ever, with 2,400 families served locally.

Food bank directors say many families seeking assistance still have someone employed, but they have seen hours, pay or benefits cut. Others have been laid off or have seen contract work disappear; their unemployment benefits have run out, or they’re waiting for them to start.

“We have had the most people this year that we’ve ever had,” said Jerry Workman, volunteer director of the 30-year-old Berea Community Food Bank.

“Since demand is going up, it’s putting a strain on the food bank, so we’re asking people to be especially generous this season,” said Annette Ball of the Dare to Care Food Bank in Louisville, which has served a 13-county area since 1971.

“What we’re seeing are persons who haven’t been to a food pantry in a very long time,” said Debbie Long, director of God’s Food Pantry in Somerset. “For us, trying to keep up with the demand is very difficult.”

Debbie Amburgey, coordinator of God’s Pantry-East in Prestonsburg, which distributes food to 73 food banks in 12 southeastern Kentucky counties, said she expects the need to increase as the holidays approach. Relatives come home, and hard-pressed families use some of their food money to buy Christmas gifts for their children.

“It’s pretty serious,” said Thelma Willis, director of Helping Hands Food Pantry in Corbin. “There’s a lot of people laid off around here, and we’re having more elderly come in than usual.”

How can you help? Donating to your local food bank is an obvious answer. Beyond charity, though, there’s a growing movement to rebuild Kentucky’s capacity for community agriculture, especially in poor areas where quality of food is as big a problem as quantity.

One such group is a Lexington non-profit called Seedleaf. It works with neighborhoods to start community gardens and teach people how to grow, cook and preserve nutritious food. For more information, go to www.seedleaf.org.

Another effort is the Lexington Urban Gleaning Network, which collects leftover food from farmers, gardeners and fruit-tree owners and distributes it through God’s Pantry. For more information, e-mail John Walker at igrowfood@insightbb.com.

So as you sit down to your turkey, consider donating food, money or time to an organization that’s trying to meet Kentuckians’ immediate needs — or better prepare them to feed themselves.