Society of St. Andrew, Piedmont Research Station working together to provide fruit for needy
By Frank DeLoache
While most people are still thinking about what they’ll plant in their gardens this summer, the staff at Piedmont Research Station has already been picking strawberries for three weeks.
And clients of Rowan Helping Ministries and residents of Nazareth Children’s Home are enjoying the fruits of that early harvest.
Strawberries are just the beginning. This summer, clients of other local nonprofit agencies will likely savor raspberries, blackberries and blueberries grown in the Research Station’s fields on Sherrills Ford Road.
Later, they’re likely to get some pumpkins and winter squash.
In past years, most of those fruits and vegetables would have gone on the compost heap, adds Joe Hampton, the Research Station superintendent.
As a state agency, the Research Station doesn’t sell the crops it raises as part of research because state officials don’t want to compete with local grocery stores, fruit stands and the Salisbury Farmers Market for paying customers.
But thanks to a new arrangement with the Society of St. Andrew, the Research Station is donating most of its produce to nonprofit agencies that serve the needy.
The Society of St. Andrew is best known for one of the programs it promotes throughout western North Carolina: gleaning.
Gleaning is a practice found in the Bible, where the poor were allowed to go into a farmer’s field after the crop had been picked and “glean” the leftovers.
Dick Winters, the Society of St. Andrew’s Charlotte area gleaning coordinator, said the nonprofit group tries to bring together three groups to help the needy:
– The farmers who are willing to let volunteers glean the leftovers from their fields.
– The volunteers who are willing to help pick the leftovers and then transport whatever is gleaned to agencies serving the poor and needy.
– The agencies that can best put to use the fruits and vegetables that have been picked.
The society has been sending gleaners to several Rowan County farms ó Frank Patterson and Wetmore farms, for example ó off and on for years.
But never the Research Station, until about a year ago. Hampton said the station has been doing research for six or seven years, trying to develop new strains of raspberries and blueberries that thrive in the Piedmont’s red clay.
At the same time, researchers at N.C. State have been developing ways to lengthen the growing season ó and thus profitability ó for strawberries.
The strawberry research got a shot in the arm with David Murdock’s development of the N.C. Research Campus, which wants to buy more local fruits and vegetables from N.C. farmers.
All that research has a byproduct: more fruit.
And Hampton is offering that fruit to the Society of St. Andrew, in exchange for some help harvesting the fruit and delivering it to the nonprofit agencies that can use it.
Winters and Hampton added that they’ll only need volunteer gleaners for certain crops, like blackberries and raspberries. They should be ripe in June and July.
“Right now we’re targeting Tuesdays and Friday for regular gleanings,” Winters said.
The staff at the Research Station can handle the strawberries that are ripening now. They only pick once a week because the station is testing different varieties at the same time.
Winters is arranging for transportation of the strawberries and lining up groups, like Rowan Helping Ministries and Nazareth Children’s Home, to use them.
Last week, Rowan Helping Ministries accepted about 8 gallons of strawberries, Winters said.
Winters has talked to Sam Foust, at the Salisbury Housing Authority, and Sister Mary Roberts at Sacred Heart Catholic Church about distributing fruit to their clients. He’s also getting in touch with the East Spencer and county housing authorities as well as Main Street Mission in China Grove.
Winters welcomes calls from other nonprofits who can use the fruit and vegetables. He also needs volunteer pickers and transporters. He especially welcomes groups of volunteers ó from local churches, for example ó which can pick and transport the fruit.
When dealing with local agencies, he needs to have one contact person who can be available to take gleaned produce when it’s ready.
He’s also open to working with other farmers in Rowan County and the surrounding region.
And he’s thankful to Hampton and the Research Station for offering a new, steady source of nutritious food.
Any of those groups interested in participating in the gleaning program ó growing, picking, delivering or receiving ó should call Winters at 704-236-8257 or e-mail him at glean email@example.com.
The Society of St. Andrew’s Web site is www.endhunger.org.
Contact reporter Frank DeLoache at 704-797-4245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.