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Glean SLO harvests to allay hunger

Greta Mart/KCBX
Volunteer Mark Anselmi shows off a perfect heirloom tomato that may have otherwise gone to waste if not for Glean SLO.

In San Luis Obispo County, one in six people go to bed hungry most nights, according to the county’s Food Bank Coalition. That equates to over 46,000 people that are considered food insecure. 

Many of these residents earn too much to qualify for the federal SNAP program, but not enough to sufficiently fill the fridge and cupboards. That’s where local food pantries come in.

The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispomanages roughly 200 distributions a month. At these distributions, people line up to receive a box of staples - filled with items like dried milk, canned beef stew, pasta and cereals. In San Luis Obispo County, those boxes also come with delicious fresh vegetables and fruit, thanks to an organization called Glean SLO.

Roxanne Sanders is Glean SLO’s program manager, and it’s her job to try to decrease that one in six number going hungry.

“For a pretty small county, I always think that’s a high statistic, especially since we do live in such an agricultural abundance,” Sanders said.

The word glean is both a noun and a verb. Historically the verb meant to gather leftover grain or produce after the harvest. As a noun, a glean is a gathering to pick up that leftover crop.

KCBX caught up with a glean at Tally Farmsin Arroyo Grande. Tally Farms has been a big supporter of the county’s food bank for the past few years. It operates a CSA program - community supported agriculture - so after crews fill customers’ CSA boxes with fresh produce, the company invites Glean SLO in to harvest the leftovers every week. On this day, the glean was in a field of heirloom tomatoes and Sanders showed us around.

“So we have about 12 volunteers out here today, and they're packing them into crates and then we take it back to the San Luis Obispo Food bank, and from there goes out whether through it's our distribution sites or our agency partners - which could be Salvation Army or Loaves and Fishes,” Sanders said.

Glean volunteer Anne Ketelaar has been out on about 75 gleans.

“Oh I love coming out here. I feel good about coming out and harvesting the produce that would have gone to waste otherwise,” Ketelaar said. “And you feel good that about coming out and working out in the sun. And you meet a lot of really nice people and it's very rewarding.”

For San Luis Obispo resident Lauren Stowe, this was her first time on a glean.

“I volunteered because I walk in my neighborhood and I see a lot of wasted opportunity and instead of being upset I thought I'd be a little proactive about it and help,” Stowe said.

Mark Anselmi had two reasons to sign up to work this glean- his friend Carol and his own bounty. “I live in Templeton. I have a big backyard garden and I can never seem to use all my stuff so I'd like to give it,” Anselmi said. “And then I thought well this is just that. On a bigger level. So here I am because I figure there's a lot of stuff here that people can use.”

This was Anselmi’s second glean.

“Yeah, I picked apples a couple weeks ago - it was great!”

Chuck Asmus is a key cog in the Glean SLO machine. He started as a volunteer driver for about a year, then was hired on as a part-time driver. Over the past four years, he’s been a part of approximately 700 gleans.

His biggest take-away from his work with Glean SLO?

“There's a lot of nice people in this county and this county is full of an abundant bounty of fresh vegetables and fruit and they're willing to spread the love around the county,” Asmus said.

With the Central Coast climate, Glean SLO is able to do their work year-round. Last winter was a little rough with all the rains, which is the only thing other than extreme heat that will cancel a planned glean. Each picking session lasts about two hours, and Sanders schedules them in the mornings or late afternoons to beat the heat. Sanders said the organization has a robust volunteer base in south county, but could use both field donations and volunteers in north county, and she encourages anyone interested to check out the Glean SLO website.

“It's pretty easy, so you go onto our website, which is gleanslo.org and you hit volunteer and you just fill out your name your information and then you have access to our harvest calendar and it shows you the gleans that we have going for the week where they are - whether it's you know Cambria or Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo or Templeton - and you can sign up for it,” explained Sanders.

Coming up - from October 16 to October 24, Glean SLO is having a special event. It’s called Glean 8-0-5 and includes volunteers in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

“We're hoping that we can encourage a lot of community members to come on out and glean and just kind of ramp up,” Sanders said. “We're hoping we can do maybe like you know 15 or 20 in a week but that may be a little more than we're able to do.”

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