By Mary Jo Harrod
Division of Compliance Assistance
John Walker, an environmental scientist for the Division for Air Quality, had heard the alarming statistic that 40 percent of all food grown in this country never reaches a plate. He already knew the staggering statistic that one in six Kentuckians does not have enough to eat or the ability to access fresh and nutritious food.
“I grew up in a small mining village in northern Wales. I was raised by my grandmother, and although we were poor, we never went hungry. To me, hunger was something that happened to people in faraway countries,” said Walker. “After moving to Kentucky and being involved in local food movements, I realized that hunger was on my doorstep, and that it was up to each of us to do whatever we could to alleviate hunger and help our fellow neighbors in need.”
So Walker and two friends in the Lexington area, all with gardens producing more bounty than they could use, decided in 2010 to tackle the problems of hunger and food waste.
More than six years later, through the help of Walker and his friends, GleanKY, part of KY EXCEL through the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet (EEC), is providing fresh produce to thousands of people in central Kentucky, partnering with the Lexington Farmers’ Market, Good Foods Coop, Reed Valley Orchard and using volunteers to gather excess produce from farms, orchards, farmers’ markets, grocery stores and supermarkets.
Volunteers pick up produce that can’t be sold but is otherwise perfectly edible and deliver it to more than 60 hunger programs throughout Fayette County and nearly 20 more in Scott, Franklin and Madison counties.
“I had read many articles about gleaning out west, but no one was doing it in Lexington,” said Walker. “People should not go hungry. When I saw so much food being simply thrown away, from farm to store, it was morally imperative for me to try and do something about it.”
Initially, the group targeted churches for volunteers and recipients and other agencies that fed the hungry, such as the Catholic Action Center, Nathanial Mission, Lighthouse Mission and Lexington Rescue Mission.
Stephanie Wooten, executive director of the organization, explained, “GleanKY is neither a food producer nor a food preparer, but it’s a system to link them and solve two issues at once.”
Walker said the organization has a unique model. “We don’t go through a food bank, except when we have too much, and then we will pass it on to God’s Pantry,” he said.
GleanKY has two requirements for any agencies receiving produce through the program. The produce cannot be sold since it is donated for the use of hunger programs. And the agencies who use it must serve families or individuals who experience food insecurity.
According to Wooten, 96 percent of GleanKY’s partner programs reported an increase in the nutritional value of the meals they provide after partnering with GleanKY and 76 percent of their partner programs reported being able to serve more people after partnering with GleanKY. In 2015, GleanKY achieved impressive results with 216,513 pounds of food being processed, 2,404 volunteer hours donated, 618 food trips made, 60 agencies served, and 38 sources of excess produce. “It’s something we are pretty proud of,” said Wooten.
According to the organization, it took in $147,511 in grants and donations and used all but $15,015 in administration costs on the hungry and undernourished. The organization said it was on target to collect and distribute one million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables in 2016.
“We set out to do a good thing in the Commonwealth, and I think we are setting a great example for others in Kentucky to follow,” said Walker, who is now vice-president of GleanKY and also a board member. “I think very highly of it, especially since it has managed to achieve so much in so short a time. This is due in no small part to our board, staff, interns, volunteers and the farmers and stores that have been so generous.”
One GleanKY recipient said service is a blessing for people who don’t have enough money to buy things to eat. “It’s a wonderful idea if they can keep helping people who really need the food,” she said.
If you would like to get involved with GleanKY, go to www.gleanky.org and follow the volunteer link.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: John Walker, founder, vice president and board member of GleanKY. A vanful of donated pumkins is shown. People pick through produce. Photos courtesy of GleanKY.