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GleanSLO expanding harvesting in North County 

GleanSLO in Paso Robles

Seeking more farmers, gardeners and volunteers

– When Becky Zelinski realized the garden at her B’z Kneez Farm was producing more vegetables than she could sell or her family and neighbors could eat, she invited staff from ECHO in Atascadero to come and take what they needed.

“I had extra vegetables, it was COVID and I wanted to try to help people out by sharing my produce.” When she expanded her garden in 2021 she contacted GleanSLO for more help with harvesting and distributing the food to a wider network of organizations.

GleanSLO has been rescuing surplus produce from gardens and farms since it was founded in 2010. Since then, the organization has rescued more than 2 million pounds of fruit and vegetables that would otherwise have gone to waste. The fresh produce is distributed to individuals and families experiencing food insecurity by the SLO Food Bank through a network of nonprofit agencies and direct food programs.

Andrea Richards, the food rescue manager with GleanSLO and volunteer Chelsey Walker, recently harvested over 50 pounds of food from Zelinksi’s farm in rural Paso Robles. Richards and Walker harvested and loaded crates of beans, melons, squash and tomatillos into the GleanSLO van within a couple of hours.

Harvest in Paso Robles

Chelsey Walker, GleanSLO volunteer and Andrea Richards, Food Rescue Manager, harvesting beans at B’z Kneez Farm.

“We are working to revitalize our North County hub,” said Richards. GleanSLO is looking for more gardens, farms and orchards to open their gates for GleanSLO volunteers to harvest fruit and vegetables that can be distributed to food programs instead of the landfill. “Everyone from the backyard gardener to commercial farmers is welcome to participate,” said Richards.

In the July 2022 assessment of food insecurity in the United States, Feeding America, a nationwide network that includes the SLO Food Bank, reports that, based on 2020 data, 25,600 individuals in San Luis Obispo County are food insecure.

food insecurity in San Luis Obispo County

Image from Feeding America Map the Meal Gap report.

The 2020 Census QuickFacts reports that 10.6% of San Luis Obispo County residents were living in poverty, compared with 9.1% food insecurity rate reported by Feeding America. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports “In the United States, over one-third of all available food goes uneaten through loss or waste.”

Food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food to live a healthy active life due to a lack of money or other resources. The leading causes include poverty, lack of transportation to get to a grocery store or food distribution center, and living in a “food desert” where there is limited access to food supplies, with poverty being the top cause.

In 2020 the SLO Food Bank distributed over 5.1 million pounds of food to county residents in need. Each year, around half of the food distributed by the food bank is fresh produce including that harvested locally by GleanSLO. Over 315,000 pounds were harvested from local county farms in 2021.

In addition to more gardens, farms and orchards, GleanSLO is also looking for new volunteers to join the 469 current active volunteers. Volunteers help with harvests and transporting produce to the SLO Food Bank.

“To donate crops or to volunteer, sign up on our website,” said Richards. Interested parties can also email: gleanslo@slofoodbank.org or call (805) 235-1180.

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.