In a breadshop outside Montpelier, Vermont, (destination Ben and Jerry’s) we discovered a little number advertising something called Salvation Farms. The flyer talked about food waste (40 – 50% of food in the US is wasted), attempts to reduce food loss and food waste (gleaning, compost and keeping it local), and a state prison. It was time for a detour in Vermont.
The folks from Salvation Farms gave us an afternoon of their time, and we met them at the Yellow Deli, where the mural “My Elusive Dream” memorializes the hippie dream that went up in a cloud of smoke. But we were not interested in a dead movement so much as a new one.
Theresa Snow and Marcella Houghton told us how Salvation Farms began in 2004 as gleaning collective. In their first years they worked with two dozen farms to harvest the remains from already harvested fields, collect unsellable produce from farmers’ coolers at the farm, and collect what was not sold at the end of farmer’s markets. By 2011, Salvation Farms had gleaned and donated more than 1 million pounds of food, working with more than 120 farms and growers.
As much food as Salvation Farms and other gleaners are capturing, Theresa thinks gleaners in Vermont are capturing about 15% of food available for gleaning. Although 15% doesn’t seem like a large amount, the challenge for Salvation Farms has been how to distribute all this food to vulnerable populations before it spoils.
Salvation Farms now operates the Vermont Gleaning Collective, a program that assists Vermont gleaning organizations to become competent and consistent. This means interacting with farmers in a way that is professional and reliable, making gleaning something that is easy for farmers to bring into their systems. Theresa told us that good gleaners almost function as an extension of the farm.
Another program at Salvation Farms, the Vermont Commodity Program, seeks to solve the problem of spoilage. Salvation Farms has been experimenting with different methods of preserving the food they collect. One of their most interesting innovations has been to partner with the Vermont Offender Work Program and the Southeast State Correctional Facility.
Inmates at the prison pack the food volunteers glean, vacuum sealing it for a longer shelf-life. Currently, Salvation Farms is attempting to raise the funds to turn this start-up program into an established answer to food spoilage, by renovating a prison-building into a facility for commercial food packing that would be operated by inmates.
Theresa’s vision is that this food gleaned by volunteers and packed by inmates would be available to “anyone in the community who is financially or nutritionally insecure.”