According to statistics, about 72 per cent of low-income families do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The Ontario Association of Food Banks has worked to provide food for these families for years – however this year, marks a great achievement for the Association, it’s volunteers and it’s participating farmers. With a goal of growing and gleaning (picking vegetables by hand) 500,000 pounds of fresh produce this season, the Ontario Harvest project doubled their goal, bringing in one million pounds of fresh food for families across the province. "The carrots, potatoes and other fresh produce are going towards families that need it," says Todd Jaques, Director of Operations and Agricultural Partnerships for the Ontario Association of Food Banks. “And you can see the impact that it makes,” says Jaques.
At the heart of this project is the type of work that the Greenbelt Foundation looks for when selecting grantees. It's a project that works for urban and rural communities to make quality of life better for everyone in the region; which makes the Greenbelt much more than a land use plan.
This initiative started a few years ago when the OAFB began actively developing relationships with farmers by doing some gleaning themselves and setting up a booth at farmers markets for customers to donate fresh produce. Community Harvest Ontario took this idea to a whole new level with almost 1000 volunteers taking part across the province.
A lot of success this year came from companies making "gleaning" a team- building event, says Jaques. “Individual volunteers also made it out the fields and proved the impact that one person can really make,” he added.
As far as what the farmers had to say, Jaques says they had "fantastic feedback," from farmers; having not only donated their produce, but in some cases, also many acres of their farmland to grow on. "There's nothing they (farmers) hate more than seeing food they worked hard to grow; tilled back into the soil," says Jaques.
With grants received from the Trillium Foundation and Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, the Ontario Harvest Program organizers plan to increase their efforts next year. “Not only will it continue, but it will expand in number over the next three years,” says Jaques.