ANDERSON – As a Delaware County food regulator, Christiana Mann often fielded calls from residents and motorists about “food dumps” in which truck drivers unloaded food without a destination or spilled in an accident at the side of the road.

“You have only a number of hours before you get into a danger zone where it can still be transported to a safe place,” she said.

Now an assistant lecturer in the area of hospitality and food management for Ball State University’s Miller College of Business, Mann remains concerned about issues such as food waste. That’s why she was one of about a dozen people from area food pantries, churches and other volunteer organizations who attended a lecture Sunday by Ann Radtke, program director at the Indiana Gleaning Network of the Society of St. Andrew, at Anderson Public Library

“In the past, I heard them tell of waste in the fields, labor shortages, not having their wares accepted by the stores,” Mann said.

Radtke was in Madison County to educate potential volunteers and farmers about the advantages of a gleaning network. Gleaning is the collection of food left in fields after the harvest is complete.

Though the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports about 25% of edible crops never make it to the table, Radtke said she believes the amount is closer to 40%. That is more than enough to feed people who face food insecurity, she said.

Mann, who also has set up a farmers market, is doing a professional development externship at a Muncie soup kitchen. She said she was interested in hearing what Radtke had to say because the food and hospitality industries are increasingly interested in sustainability, and she wanted to find opportunities for her students to perform community service hours.

“They’re coming back at harvest time, so it’s all hands on deck,” she said.

Radtke, whose work in Madison County to date has been primarily through the Christian Center, said though there have been small-scale efforts previously, Indiana is relatively new to gleaning, which is more popular in the southeastern part of the United States.

“Our goal is to expand and have a gleaning network in every county throughout the state,” she said.

Gleaning, which generally takes place between July and November, isn’t easy, Radtke said.

“Our first goal is to work with farmers in the way that works best for the farmer. Gleaning can look very different from one farm to another,” she said. For instance, some farmers don’t like gleaners to wander into their fields and prefer to collect the produce and bring it to one location on their property, she said.

Knowing exactly when gleaning will take place may be hard to know and is dependent on when a crop is harvested, Radtke said.

“The farmers themselves don’t always know when the harvest comes in. They may get a call from the harvester only two or three days in advance,” she said. 

Gleaning also can look different from one place to another and even from one year to another, Radtke said. Though many people associate farming in Indiana with commodities, such as corn and soybeans, farmers actually grow a variety of crops, especially tomatoes in Madison County and cucumbers and melons to the north, she said.

“There’s a lot more waste of watermelons and cantaloupes than people realize,” she said.

In addition to produce, Radtke said, gleaners also may work with livestock, which is processed by someone else that can cover the cost.

How the food is distributed depends on the priorities of the farmers and of the volunteers, Radtke said. For instance, a farmer or volunteer group may designate the gathered food to go to a particular food pantry or domestic violence shelter, she said.

Doug Linville, a member of the Madison Park Church of God, attended with some other church members to get more information on behalf of the church’s new food insecurity initiative.

“We’re trying to connect with agencies and churches that already are doing that. We don’t know how to do it, but we’re called to do it,” he said. “We heard a lot about hunger issues and really wanted to step into making a difference in the community.”

© 2019 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.