Every week, Master Gardener volunteers from the Virginia Cooperative Extension, or VCE, along with community volunteers, head to the farmers’ markets to see what fresh produce they can pick up for people in need of food.
Area food pantries look to the farmers who donate the produce to bolster their inventories.
“Most food pantries give away boxed and canned goods, but everybody should have access to fresh fruits and vegetables for good nutrition,” said extension Master Gardener Volunteer Pamela Forshay.
The volunteers pick up a variety of produce from the Dale City and Manassas farmers’ markets. “Early in the season it’s mostly greens such as lettuce, kale, spinach and things like that. Now we’re into tomatoes, eggplant, lots of zucchini and squash,” Forshay said. “Next month it’s going to be mostly apples and peaches and watermelon, cantaloupes and other melons.”
Even though the produce is still fresh, much of it from the farmers’ markets would be bound for the trash bins if not for the volunteers’ rescue efforts at the Manassas Farmers’ Market, which runs in Manassas on Thursdays, and the Dale City Farmer’s Market, which is open on Sundays. “It’s the end of the week and they don’t have an immediate market for it,” Forshay said.
The farmers are happy that the food is going to a good cause. “We want to donate it because we don’t want to throw it away.” said Lucy Maldonado, of Leslie’s Garden, one of the farmers who gives away produce. “We want to try to help people who really need it. I think it’s a good thing to help.”
The produce gathered at the farmers’ markets goes to the Northern Virginia Food Rescue, a subsidiary of Action in the Community through Service, which distributes food to area food banks from a warehouse Kao Circle in the Manassas area. The produce is a big help. “Since June, we haven’t had any fresh produce coming through because the United States Department of Agriculture has stopped sending out the Farmers to Family boxes. Without that, we only have non-perishable items, and this is just the best locally grown produce that we can get, and we’ve been able to send it out to the community,” said Rebecca Gates, feeding task force food acquisition director for the Northern Virginia Food Rescue. “People have been very grateful, especially in the variety they bring.”
The volunteers gather 2,000 to 3,000 pounds at the Dale City Farmer’s Market each week and up to 7,000 pounds at the peak of the season, and they pick up roughly 1,000 pounds at the Manassas Farmer’s Market. The food is distributed to the larger food pantries which distribute the produce to smaller operations across the county as needed, said Nancy Berlin, the VCE Master Gardener coordinator.
The St. Thomas United Methodist Church in Manassas is a recipient of some of the produce from the farmer’s markets. The church’s food pantry, which serves about 230 families a week and gets produce from other sources as well, distributes the produce to other food banks which lack the ability to store the fruits and vegetables. “Anything that comes in Saturday, Sunday or Monday goes out to other food pantries. They love getting fresh produce because they don’t have the refrigeration available to hold it,” said Jenny Michalek, of the church’s food bank.
Contact Prince William Food Rescue to volunteer to help rescue food from the farmer’s markets.