Donna Koger and Julie Powers first heard about the Haywood County Gleaners when they were volunteering at Green Thumb, a community garden in Waynesville. The pair signed up as volunteers and began their gleaning work in delivery — picking up excess produce from Haywood County farmers and growers and bringing it to those in need. “We got lost and all that fun stuff,” Powers says with a laugh.
The Haywood County Gleaners were founded by Jim Geenen with the help of The Society of St. Andrew, a national gleaning organization. The group currently works with 17 farms and farmers markets to gather leftover crops and donate them at 27 different sites, including senior centers and food pantries.
Koger says that she knew some in Haywood County experience food insecurity, but her work with the gleaners made her realize the enormity of the problem. “You know that there are probably people worse off than you are, but you don’t know the details or realize the numbers,” she notes.
The gleaners are always looking for more farmers to add their fields to the gleaning roster, Koger adds. “It’s a great cause, and I see it doing a lot of good,” she says. “It’s exciting to be involved at the beginning because I think it’s going to keep growing and helping more people.”
Powers, who heads up the group’s food preservation program, adds that the gleaners are increasing their efforts to save even more food through freezing, canning and dehydration. “Part of our goal as gleaners is to be able to serve more people,” Powers says. “We needed to expand past just picking and delivering.”
In the coming year, the group will partner with three facilities in Waynesville to continue its preservation efforts: Open Door Ministries, Grace Church in the Mountains and Haywood Pathways, the facility built by “Extreme Makeover” host Ty Pennington and his crew.