Bennington College students pick apples for food pantries
BENNINGTON >> Local food shelves and community organizations now have more fresh fruit, thanks to help from Bennington College students.
Members of a new group called Bennington Communal Harvest spent most of Wednesday at Terry's Apple Orchard in Bennington picking apples which were leftover from the fall harvest.
The group's goal, according to second-year Bennington College student and founding group member Eli Calhoun, is to increase availability of fresh, local produce to Southern Vermont residents and to reduce food waste.
"We had talked to food shelves, pantries and other organizations and heard they didn't have as much fresh food as they wanted," said Chris Larsen, a fourth-year student and founding member of the group.
By the day's end, roughly a dozen students collected 18 boxes of apples, or 792 pounds. Some were delivered to HIS Pantry and more were expected to be delivered to another site this week.
It was the second time this fall the group organized a "gleaning," or picking of extra produce left over after a harvest. A glean two weeks ago yielded 2,000 pounds of apples which were distribtued to seven sites, including Fairwinds, the Vermont Veteran's Home and Mount Anthony Union Middle School.
There are a number of reasons why a food producer cannot use what was grown. Sometimes the crop is more than the farm can sell or harvest.
Gleaning groups work with food producers, like orchards and farms, that have extra food.
The idea of founding a local, organized gleaning group, students said, stems from discussions in a course with instructor Alison Dennis, a fellow with the college's Center for the Advancement of Public Action.
Calhoun, who studies food systems and public health at the college, said her and Larsen are very interested in making fresh food available to more people.
"We had spoken to several food shelves and none of them knew of any organizations that gleaned," Calhoun said.
In addition to Calhoun, the other two founding students are fourth-year Rocco Farano and first-year Phoebe Grace.
For students, it's a chance to take what they learned in class and apply it to the world while engaging with the community.
For Rob LaPorte, orchard manager at Terry's, it's a chance to carry on a long-standing tradition. Different groups and people have volunteered time over the years to glean at the orchard, he said.
The orchard, near the intersection of Route 7A and Houghton Lane, was named after Terry Ehrich, the late editor and publisher of Hemmings Motor News, which owned the orchard from the mid-1980s.
"He was a very benevolent man," LaPorte said. "He was very community oriented and was always helping someone."
Gleaning and sharing with the community, he said, is not a negative financial impact, but a community service.
"I myself hate to see things go to waste," he said. "The orchard is bountiful... It seems like we're always able to make room to help people."
About 16 of the 20-acre property holds a wide variety of apple trees, LaPorte said, from Cortland and Northern Spy to McIntosh. Many of the trees are old and the cultivars are considered heirloom.
Pickers on Wednesday were focused on the Empire, which has a deep, dark red color. During an orchard tour this fall, students liked the taste the best, he said.
Calhoun said the group is pursuing grants to support its work. Long term goals also include securing more volunteers and gleaning from more farms.
For more information about the group, visit www.benningtoncommunalharvest.weebly.com.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979
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