Farmers Against Hunger seeks to expand network of gleaners, food donators
HIGHTSTOWN — In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Brian Strumfels of Bordentown, the new program director for Farmers Against Hunger, is working to build the group’s network of volunteer gleaners and farmers donating food they are not able to sell.
Farmers Against Hunger does not stop distributing food in December when the growing season shuts down.
They are a 12-months-a-year organization and they utilize walk-in fridges in Hightstown to preserve food for distribution into February, March and April. Volunteers for on-farm gleanings are always needed for the program.
He added he is encouraging anyone with a corporate or government job — or even people who find themselves suddenly furloughed with more time on their hands — to get involved and make an impact in a state where two out of five children are growing up hungry.
Farmers Against Hunger, which operates out of the Rutgers Eco-Complex in Columbus and the Tri-County Farmers’ Cooperative facility in Hightstown, where its refrigerated trucks are stored, most desperately needs gleaning volunteers in the summer and fall months, he said.
“There is no real typical work week here, but we also get busiest in the fall,” he said. “We have scheduled days: on Mondays we go to Camden, on Tuesdays we go to Browns Mills, on Wednesdays we go to Mount Holly and on Thursdays we go to Trenton with the trucks, and then there is a lot of on-call as well. Farmers will call us say ‘I’ve got four pallets of eggplant here, can you pick it up?’”
“Or, I’ve got a lot of extra corn left, can you send a team of gleaners to clean up the corn? That also happens a lot with apple growers.”
During the winter months, both he and Elyse Yerrapathruni, the group’s director of outreach and education, will go to speak at food banks and hunger organizations around the state.
With the recent coronavirus related downturn in the economy, Strumfels sad he is concerned that many foundations the group relies on for support may not be able to be so generous in 2021 and 2022.
“We found out we need more money for next year than we had this year,” he said, “so in this time of uncertainty, many of our funders are foundations directly affected by the [financial] markets.”
“So we’re always wondering about our funding status from year to year.”
Strumfels also said Farmers Against Hunger continues to recruit more participating farmers.
“We’re always looking to build our team of farmers and we’re always looking for volunteers with pick-up trucks who can help us pick up more produce, as most of our volunteers are out in the fields or the orchards gleaning,” he said
Interested gleaning volunteers can contact Virginia Baker through the Farmers Against Hunger website or by calling the New Jersey Ag Society’s office at the Rutgers Eco-Complex in Columbus.
“Think of it as a chance to get out in the fresh air and sunshine and pick all kinds of crops, knowing what you pick is going to go to people in need within the next day,” Strumfels said.
It’s a good karma, feel-good opportunity for furloughed workers or for those who still have jobs.
Strumfels, raised in Hainesport, began working for the non-profit organization as an intern in the summer of 2009 and moved into a paid part-time position in the fall.
He became produce manager and often drove the trucks to make deliveries to food banks in New Brunswick, Trenton, Mount Holly, Camden and Browns Mills.
“I knew I always wanted to be something where I’d be helping people,” he said.
“I always like the idea of being able to help those less fortunate,” he said, and while he knew some farmers around Hainesport, “almost all of the farmers I’ve gotten to know in this job are incredibly nice, down-to-earth people. I came to really love working with farmers from all over the state.”