Gleaning is no small potatoes

The act of gleaning is mentioned in the Bible, in the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Ruth.

A passage from Deuteronomy 24 reads, “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings.”

Those in need may not always be able to get out to the fields to glean the leftover harvest, so Bernie Quist of St. Paul Parish in St. Cloud started a volunteer group to do just that.

“There are people who are hungry, people in need,” Quist said. “It is the bounty God has provided, and we can be his hands and feet to give back to people who can benefit from it.”

Lori Neutzling, who attends St. Paul's Church, helps pull potatoes Monday with a group of volunteers in Clear Lake. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt)
Lori Neutzling, who attends St. Paul’s Church, helps pull potatoes Monday with a group of volunteers in Clear Lake. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt)

About five years ago, Quist was visiting an area farm as part of her job as a loan officer with AgStar Financial Services in St. Cloud, where she’s worked for 35 years. Though the field of potatoes had already been harvested, she noticed there were a number of small potatoes still spread across the fresh-turned soil.

Later that night when she was lying in bed, she kept thinking about the amount of potatoes that would go to waste in the field.

“Being raised with an expectation that food should not go to waste, I wondered if they couldn’t be collected and donated,” Quist said.

The next day she called the farmer who said she could bring some people out and collect them. Quist began asking others to get involved.

“The reason the farmers don’t collect them themselves is that they are not quite salable grade. They are either too small or misshapen. But they still feed someone who is hungry,” she said.

Last year, the group picked 1,964 pounds of potatoes and donated them to organizations like Place of Hope, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities Emergency Services, the Poor Clare Sisters in Sauk Rapids and Anna Marie’s Alliance.

Kim Salitros, manager of volunteer services and in-kind donations at Anna Marie’s Alliance, said that at almost any given time, they house 36 women and children.

“That’s a lot of food and a lot of cost,” she said. “To have people thinking of us and taking their own time to go and get these potatoes for us, for the women and children here, is a wonderful gift,” she said.

Salitros said Anna Marie’s, which is a safe place for victims of domestic abuse to stay, received about 50 pounds of potatoes this year, which their cook will turn into “something wonderful.”

Bernie Quist and her group of volunteers have been gathering to collect left over potatoes from several farm fields for the past six growing seasons. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt)
Bernie Quist and her group of volunteers have been gathering to collect left over potatoes from several farm fields for the past six growing seasons. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt)

“Our cook makes the most amazing homemade soups. It’s like a big, warm hug,” Salitros said. “I can imagine that she might make a batch of homemade potato soup.”

This year, thanks to farmer Tom Hammer of TJ Farms, Quist and several volunteers roved an estimated 30 acres of farmland near Clear Lake Oct. 3 and 4 where they gleaned a record 2,520 pounds of potatoes.

Although he said it’s really not a sacrifice for him to let people come and gather the potatoes the machinery doesn’t collect, it does make him feel good that he can help in this way.

Hammer, who serves on the board of the Clearwater-Clear Lake Food Shelf, said one thing he’s learned is that “it also does as much good for the people doing it as it does for those it feeds,” he said. “It’s like a double win.”

“World hunger is a huge thing,” he added. “It might not be saving the world, but by just helping locally, with everyone doing their part, it can make a big difference.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

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