Farm Aid

What’s better than farm fresh? Farm fresh for free.

Last weekend, Platteville, Colorado’s Miller Farms opened its fields to all comers to harvest their remaining potatoes, carrots and leeks. The Free Pick Weekend attracted a staggering 40,000 people who harvested 600,000 pounds of food.

Miller Farms, a large, family operation that grows a variety of crops (amen!) and dabbles in ag tourism, had to turn some folks away.

The event made the news, locally and nationally. Here’s a slide show of the event, and a CNN video. Those Millers really know how to work a press release!

More likely, the story had the perfect storm of topics: hunger, recession and food in this Thanksgiving week. Plus, everyone loves farms.

In the NPR interview, Miller mentioned that he’s had gleaners come to pick his excess crops before. But this was different. More direct.

The Gleaners, by Jean-Francois MilletHere’s where I remind you that the Bible (Leviticus) suggests this kind of generosity. While this practice used to be the norm, all credit to the Millers for making it happen.

The event also highlights the guesswork central to farming. You’re never sure how much to grow, because of the variables of weather, pests and demand. Also, farmers hate to run out, losing sales and turning people down.*

Often, the result is an unharvested abundance. Imagine what happens at the majority of farms, where the fields aren’t opened to gleaners or the public.

Fortunately, most farmers hate to see food go to waste. That’s where gleaning, either by volunteers, the hungry or others, has a role. The free-for-all events are much more effective, as those in need can pick their own food.

The problem, though, is the most needy often don’t have a car or aren’t physically able to pick crops. That’s why when I’m Food Waste Czar, I’ll encourage farmers to incorporate more of these events, with better organization, into their calendars.

If every farm with excess had these kinds of events, say…throughout November, the crowds wouldn’t be quite as overwhelming. Neither would Americans’ hunger.

*A Miller Farm employee in the CNN video mentioned that they planted more potatoes this year after running out last year.

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