SoSA works directly with farmers to provide gleaning opportunities to our volunteers and allow them to harvest crops themselves. Food recovery at markets has slowly gained traction in Tifton, however farms remained the main source of gleaned produce and “grow-a row” programs. Since 2007, SoSA has expanded to the metro area in Atlanta which brought on new challenges that SoSA had not experienced in Tifton, GA. Metro Atlanta is extremely urban, lacks space, and has few large scale farms. While the metro area will continue to face many of these challenges, there is an abundance of farmers markets. Building relationships with market managers opens the door creating relationships with the farmers who come from all over the state to sell their produce at that market. In the past year of SoSA, moving to the metro market connections have been very beneficial, as it serves as a hub for far-flung farmers.
The market managers know the farmers better than the VISTA and volunteers who may try to interact with them individually. They are adept at knowing which farmers will be willing to host a gleaning event, and which farms are large enough to glean from. Explain the goal of gleaning to farmers, and help them understand that giving away their unsellable crops will help less people go hungry, at no cost to them. The Peachtree Rd. Farmers Market in Fulton County realized the importance of food recovery and partnered with Meals on Wheels to collect extra food at the end of the market for donation. Currently, they are the only farmers market in the inner city that donates extra produce to a hunger relief organization. It is becoming more popular to redirect unsold produce to those in need in order to prevent food waste. Peachtree Rd. Farmers Market became an example of how food recovery can go beyond the fields, and showed volunteers that there are impactful, low-commitment alternatives to gleaning a field that still help their neighbors.
Recently, the SoSA VISTA saw this as an opportunity to expand the search for other farmer markets in the area to inquire about excess food. Branching out lead to the state farmers market of Atlanta. The largest market in the metro area, these vendors mostly wholesale to local restaurants, but some sell retail as well. Forming a plan on how to keep food from being wasted in their garbage bins, the GA regional director has reached out to the market manager to collaborate on how to redirect excess food to those in need in nearby communities. Based on experiences with Tifton markets, a successful strategy has been created for coordinating produce pick-ups and drop-offs with receiving agencies. Volunteers commit a maximum of two hours of their time, whereas gleaning can take up to four hours. The state market is open seven days a week and allows for many opportunities to get out there while the other smaller ones are only one day a week. Organize with the manager before going, as they can notify vendors to set aside produce donations for SoSA to pick up. Food recovery at markets is straightforward because it’s only a two-step process of picking up and dropping off. It’s a great volunteering opportunity for anyone flexibility on weekdays, or only a small amount of time to give.