A turnip garden in Little Rock marked the site of a major milestone for reducing hunger in Arkansas Monday.
The Arkansas Gleaning Project celebrated its 10 millionth pound of gleaned produce by harvesting turnips from the Western Hills Park Garden. Michelle Shope, with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, said The Arkansas Gleaning Project has fed hundreds of thousands of people since its inception in 2008.
“Gleaning is actually a biblical phrase where growers were instructed to leave their edges for the poor. What we do is, when they’re finished with their harvest, we go in and pick what’s left for the charitable distribution system,” Shope said.
That charitable distribution system includes over 900 hunger relief organizations across all counties in Arkansas. Shope said the project has worked with 60 growers since 2008 to reach the goal of 10 million pounds of donated produce.
Tyler Lindsey with the Arkansas Foodbank said gleaned fruits and vegetables are a particularly valuable addition to the more commonly donated items, such as canned goods and boxed meals.
“This project here is really helpful because it’s obviously the freshest produce we get. It’s literally coming from the fields, as opposed to maybe some from stores that are kinda towards the end of their shelf life,” said Lindsey. “So this project is great. It really allows us, especially in the summer months, to really ramp up the type of nutritious food that we’re giving out.”
In addition to community volunteers, inmates are used to help glean or harvest the produce as part of their work program. Randy Watson is the warden for the Wrightsville Unit, a prison south of Little Rock that partners with the Gleaning Project.
“They say, ‘Tomorrow I’ve got corn to pick or we’ve got peas or strawberries,’ and as soon as they call we’re out there with 30 to 40 inmates. And the inmates, they love going out and helping this project. They really do because they either they have had an impact, you know – taken food from the foodbank, or their families are.”
Organizers hope the celebration at Western Hills Park Garden will bring attention to The Arkansas Gleaning Project for Giving Tuesday, an international day of charity that supports a variety of non-profits and charitable organizations.