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New statewide initiative aims to partner farmers with nonprofits to donate unsold crops

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG) – A new state program is looking to partner farmers with nonprofits, in an effort to get food to people in need during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Feeding Iowans Task Force, a state-assembled team, set out to create a program to help some farmers donate crops that would otherwise go to waste. The program is called “The Iowa Gleaning Network-” and one nonprofit in Johnson County is already preparing to take on the load.

Leaders are already calling the program a win for farmers, nonprofits, and those in need.

For Jenna Hammerich and Eric Johnson, seeing blueberries grow on their farm is a dream come true.

“It took them a long time to grow, we only have been open since 2016 I think,” Johnson said.

They have a half-acre they typically use for people to pick-their-own blueberries at their Blueyah Blueberry Farm. Due to the pandemic, they are closed for the season.

But those berries will not go to waste.

“Blueberries are such a healthy food,” Johnson said. “It feels like a natural fit and a way to really help more people in need.”

That’s where the nonprofit Table to Table is literally “picking” up the slack.

“One of the things that we recognized as an issue was the ability to get vegetable and produce out of farms that they aren’t able to sell,” said Nicki Ross, the executive director for Table to Table.

It’s called gleaning. While normally gleaning could make up for about a tenth of the crop, the pandemic has led these farmers to donate row after row.

“We knew the opportunities were out there, we wanted to do it for a while, we explored how it might work last year, but never were actually able to make it happen,” said Emily Meister, the food rescue program manager for Table to Table. “So it’s super exciting to see it come to fruition.”

Meister said while it will be a new opportunity for them to help more people, they have at least a little experience in gleaning some area farms.

Meister said: “We’ve had some really awesome farmers the last few years who have reached out to us saying: ‘can you take this extra produce?’ They’ve been picking it and delivering it to us.”

Now, volunteers will do the picking themselves, and it’s something leaders say they are ready for.

“We believe we can do it with new farm partners and especially with volunteers,” Ross said.

Creating a new goal: find people willing to donate time, to help others donate food.

Those interested in donating or volunteering are encouraged to email

Ross said they are also looking for people to fill the AmeriCorps positions, saying they are looking for people intersted in signing up for a full-time position during the summer, including the Program Developer position. For more information on those positions, visit the Table to Table website.

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