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Gleaning for Nutrition Security: Farm-to-Community Partnerships Across Maine

| Maine

Apr 15, 2024

Summary

The food landscape in Maine includes thousands of local farms growing potatoes, blueberries, and other seasonal fruits and vegetables. Maine SNAP-Ed Nutrition Educators engage with local farmers to increase access to these healthy local foods with the aim of addressing nutrition security. Specifically, educators facilitate farm-to-community collaborations to support gleaning or excess harvesting partnerships to collect and distribute quality produce that would otherwise go to waste. 

Merrymeeting Gleaners in Midcoast Maine was one of the first gleaning groups formed with SNAP-Ed support in 2017. Since then, the gleaning policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) change strategy has expanded to several other SNAP-Ed service areas. In 2023, five Nutrition Educators worked with 60 community sites across the State to distribute gleaned produce to over 2,600 Mainers experiencing low income.

Social and Community Context

Volunteer gathering apples from a tree

According to Feeding America (2021), 10.5% of all Mainers and almost 15% of children under 18 experience food insecurity. Field gleaning offers a useful way for SNAP-Ed practitioners to increase fruit and vegetable access and intake for individuals and communities experiencing low income.[1]

The Maine SNAP-Ed PSE intervention to increase access to local nutritious food though gleaning builds on existing community strengths, enhances local food systems, and aligns with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s aim to improve food access and affordability.

Collaborative Action

Across the state, SNAP-Ed educators are building on connections established through their nutrition education activities and commitment to public health approaches to meet common goals for health equity. With shared values established, collaborative systems changes are more readily prioritized. Maine farmers are committed to sharing the surplus of their harvest with community members experiencing hunger and SNAP-Ed educators are well positioned to make community connections to gleaning groups, libraries, health care sites, and emergency food distribution groups. 

Community Assets

Gleaning groups like the Merrymeeting Gleaners recover food that would otherwise not be picked from farmers’ fields, expanding fruit and vegetable access to the community. After several years of partnership with SNAP-Ed, the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, a community food security agency, has assumed ownership for this well-established gleaning group. Maine SNAP-Ed’s involvement has transitioned to helping the community maintain these efforts and move towards sustainability. In 2023, the SNAP-Ed educator established distribution sites in health care clinics, food banks and food pantries, and a farmers market. The educator continues to provide easy, healthy recipes and education on how to prepare and store fresh produce.

Example of a educational resources provided by the program- a page with turnip recipe ideas

Building on Strengths

In 2023, Merrymeeting Gleaners rescued 37,508 pounds of produce during the harvest season. Across the State, gleaning PSE systems included 37 food assistance sites, 15 farmers markets, 3 libraries, 3 senior housing sites, and 2 health care clinics. In total, just over 2,600 SNAP-Ed community members were reached with fresh, local produce.

Maine SNAP-Ed Nutrition Educators provided nutrition education, recipe cards, and nutrition information for the produce being gleaned. Gleaning is an important component of Maine SNAP-Ed’s impact on local communities, accounting for almost 40% of Maine SNAP-Ed’s total leveraged resources for 2023.
 

Conclusion

In Midcoast Maine, a gleaning system established in 2017 with SNAP-Ed support is now fully sustainable and ownership lies with the community. SNAP-Ed continues to add value through community connections and nutrition education.

A group of volunteers cathering potatoes in a field.

Across Maine, new gleaning systems are developing, expanding, and working towards sustainability, demonstrating that farm-to-community partnerships are an important part of increasing fruit and vegetable access and sustaining healthy communities.

Related SNAP-Ed Evaluation Framework indicators: ST7, MT5, LT5, LT9, LT10

[1] Field Gleaning as a Tool for Addressing Food Security at the Local Level: Case Study. By: Hoisington, Anne, Butkus, Sue N., Journal of Nutrition Education, 00223182, Jan/Feb 2001, Vol. 33, Issue 1


This Post was submitted by Maine SNAP-Ed.  For more information please contact mainsnap-ed@une.edu or visit www.mainesnap-ed.org.

An earlier story about this program was published in 2017.

 

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