UF agricultural honorary organizes national service project to feed Central Florida’s hungry

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Gleaning, the age-old practice of collecting discarded crops from harvested fields, is getting new attention as a way for volunteers to supply soup kitchens and other charities with low-cost food.

This weekend, college students from across the country will converge on Orlando to glean citrus fruit from local groves. Then they’ll deliver, prepare and serve it in homeless shelters as part of a project organized by the University of Florida chapter of the agricultural honorary society Alpha Zeta.

It’s the first time UF’s chapter has hosted the organization’s annual holiday project, said Erika Schwarz, a UF animal sciences senior and coordinator of the event.

Alpha Zeta is the nation’s oldest honorary society for students majoring in agricultural disciplines. Founded in 1897, it has 70 chapters nationwide and promotes leadership, academic achievement and public service.

“We’ve gotten great response to the idea,” Schwarz said, noting that online registration filled up early, with 30 students signed on. “Gleaning is easy to organize and it has immediate results. It’s just a matter of getting the manpower and doing the manual labor.”

The students, who pay their own way to the event, will work with the Society of St. Andrew, a national charity that specializes in gleaning projects. Its Florida office opened in 1995 and has delivered 20 million pounds of fresh produce to the state’s hungry.

Gleaned crops are safe and nutritious, Schwarz said. They’ve been overlooked, lost or deliberately left behind due to minor issues such as cosmetic defects.

“As a general rule of thumb, there is always tons of produce left in the field (after a harvest),” she said.

Besides collecting and preparing food, volunteers will meet with migrant farmworkers and hold discussions on hunger issues. At night, they’ll sleep on floors at a local church.

“It’ll be physically demanding but it’ll be well worth it,” Schwarz said. “I think the people who participate will gain a lot of appreciation for farming, and for the food they have.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that at least one-fourth of America’s food supply goes to waste each year.

For more information, visit http://www.alphazeta.org/events/event_details.asp?id=95197

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Contacts

Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, tnordlie@ufl.edu

Source: Erika Schwarz, 561-302-7669, eschwarz@ufl.edu