By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern

For the past several months, we have been talking about how you, as a farmer, can access markets through technology, value-added goods, institutions, and more. Today, we’re going to flip the tables and talk about how markets can access you.

Farmers feed people, a fact at the core of who we are as stewards of the land. We take pride in this humble profession, and it’s our mission to do it well. Oftentimes, though, the high-quality food we grow is unavailable to many consumers. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that, of the 7.3 billion people on the planet, 793 million of them – or one in nine – were suffering from chronic undernourishment between 2014 and 2016. What’s more, Feeding America estimates that one in eight Americans are food insecure–that’s a 12.5 percent market share that farmers don’t yet have the ability to serve.

There’s no silver bullet for this problem. Instead, it will take both a cooperative effort from every segment of food chain as well as a comprehensive social and political approach to the issue of poverty.

On-farm gleaning programs are an option for farmers who want to tackle food insecurity directly. “Gleaning” describes the practice of collecting leftover crops from fields that have already been commercially harvested, or from fields that might otherwise not be profitable to harvest. For example, at the end of each season, one farm in my region invites the community to harvest what is left in the field before the frost. This not only addresses the issue of food access, but it also eliminates food waste without the farmer assuming additional labor costs. On other operations, gleaning coordinators work with farmers and mobilize groups of volunteers from the community to glean unharvested produce. These events provide an opportunity for community members to connect with the farm and the farmer, and allow the farmer to build relationships and promote their activities without having to leave the farm. Tax credits, varying state by state, are also available for produce donations.

Have you tried gleaning on your operation? What other actions can farmers take to ensure all people in the world have access to fresh, high quality, nutritious foods?

Like what you’ve read? Check out our Beginning Farmer Forum home page, and join the conversation in the Beginning Farmer Forum Facebook group.

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