Sharing the Harvest: The Gleaning Program at Parkdale Food Centre
A new gleaning program is sprouting up at the Parkdale Food Centre this season, adding an array of fresh, local produce to the centre’s edible offerings. But the benefits will not end with fruits and vegetables; the multi-faceted program also promises to yield a strong sense of community on the farm, in the kitchen and around the dining table.
“At the Parkdale Food Centre, we distribute nourishment,” says Karen Secord, the centre’s coordinator. “We encourage folks to learn about food, to cook and now, happily, to join us in harvesting it.”
Gleaning refers to the collection of leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested – when it is no longer economically profitable to harvest. Through the Parkdale Food Centre’s gleaning program, clients will now have opportunities to visit the very farms where our local produce is grown.
On a cool, sunny day in September, an enthusiastic group of volunteers and clients of the Parkdale Food Centre set out for their inaugural gleaning session – at Rideau Pines Farm in Manotick. The farm generously offered access to their abundant kale, garlic and tomato crops.
"Spending the day at Rideau Pines Farm reaffirmed that real food does way more than simply stave off hunger,” explains Secord. “Food has this incredible capacity to bring people together.”
In autumn, apples, pears, grapes and nuts are also among the produce ripe for harvest in Ottawa. But the Parkdale Food Centre will not simply bag these foods and give them away – there are already plans afoot to combine gleaning sessions with follow-up kitchen workshops that instruct clients how to healthfully and safely cook, can and preserve their harvested treasures. The centre even offers freezer space for clients who need room for food storage.
Recently, the centre received a large donation of crabapples from Hidden Harvest, an Ottawa partner that connects area tree owners with those eager to harvest local food. In response to the intake of apples, the Parkdale Food Centre organized a number of cooking sessions to maximize the produce.
“Nabil Bakir, who works at The Urban Element, recently came in to the food centre to demonstrate to a group of grade 10 student volunteers how to make crab apple preserve and compote,” explains Christine Earnshaw, a member of the centre’s board of directors and head of the Good Food committee, which works to define food policies for the Parkdale Food Centre. The preserve and the compote were distributed to clients to take home. On another morning, Bakir made apple crisp and it was served right out of the warm oven to the centre’s clients.
In total, the centre was able to share prepared apple products with 20 families. According to Earnshaw, the centre's cooking workshops also teach clients how to utilize produce that might not be polished and perfect.
“It’s the idea that you can eat less-than-perfect foods,” she says. “When you’re working with apples, you can cut away a bad section and still use the rest of the fruit.”
The social aspect of eating is another central concept at the Parkdale Food Centre – one that is sometimes missing from the lives of those who are food challenged. Earnshaw says that some of the centre’s recipients are accustomed to living in rooming houses and eating alone in their bedrooms.
“Our aim is to break that social isolation,” she says. “We’re not a hidden centre. It’s a very friendly space. We offer a chance to have food that’s freshly prepared. After a cooking workshop, it’s all about sitting down and enjoying the comfort of food in an atmosphere of community support.”