KNAU and Arizona News
3:00 am
Tue September 18, 2012

A Modern Twist On The Ancient Practice Of Food Gleaning

Camp Verde is a small town in between Phoenix and Flagstaff. With its rich soil, a river running through it and today's light rain, it's a hot spot for farmers. And Fred Wong has some of the best crops in town.

"Swiss chard, kale, beets, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, watermelons, cantelope. Camp Verde is good for everything here."

Wong, 64, farms about three acres all by himself. And what he doesn't sell at local farmers markets or use at his restaurant in Flagstaff, is up for grabs. He even hangs plastic bags on the fence posts of his fields to make it easier for hungry people to collect food.

"You should try to utilize all the food you can cause there are just so many people that go without food. You see homeless people, you know. And if you have extra food it's great to share it and let somebody else eat it instead of letting it go to waste, you know."

Wong is facilitating the ancient act of "food gleaning". It was considered law in many religious writings, including the Old Testament, that farmers leave the edges of their fields un-harvested so hungry people and orphans had a source of food. But as cities have grown and farm land has become more industrial and remote, opportunities for food gleaning have become fewer. And that's why Flagstaff resident Irene Montano is getting creative in her neighborhood...with apples.

"Sunnyside is one of Flagstaff's oldest neighborhoods. Apple trees line the streets and grow abundantly in peoples' backyards. Montano says about two years ago, one of the kids in her neighborhood youth group wondered why there was never any fresh fruit at the food bank. So,  he proposed picking all the apples in the neighborhood and donating them.

"We went around the neighborhood, we knocked on people's doors and got permission. ANd most of them were like, wow, that's a great idea. Sure, come take our apples."

Landon Merrel was one of those people. He's the pastor at the Covenant Church, the site of today's apple gleaning project.

"I think it's awesome because you know our whole goal as a church - or even as a guy - is just to bless the community. I mean it's trees that are naturally grown back here, so we want them to go to good use.

Last year, the Sunnyside youth group donated 600 pounds of apples to the food bank and they hope to top that record this year. But, you don't have to be a farmer or live in an apple-rich neighborhood to squeeze every last drop out of your produce. Today is juicing day at Amber Skye Meyer's house.

"Well, today we've got some asparagus ends, some cucumber peels, some fennel stems, some celery that needs to be used before it goes bad in the fridge. It tastes a lot better than it sounds."

Meyer is a full time mom and absolutely hates to waste any of the food she buys or grows in her small backyard garden. So, her solution is daily juicing.

"I pretty much keep one plastic bag in the fridge and put all of our scraps in there. If I cut up a cucumber for Anya to eat, I'll put the peels in the bad and I'll juice them later. Or if I cut off the ends of the asparagus for dinner, potato peels, the ends of carrots. Pretty much anything that's just scraps."

Meyer admits some of her concoctions are hard to choke down. But, she'd rather risk the gag reflex than throw away food. Thankfully, today's blend happens to be a good one.