Picture of bagged carrots for distribution

Note: This is the first in a regular series of posts highlighting the partnering organizations Nutrition Connections works with throughout New Hampshire.

This year, Strafford County Nutrition Connections has been proud to partner with NH Gleans and our regional gleaning coordinator Kelsey MacDonald. This partnership has helped bring fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy meals and plenty of smiles to families in Strafford and Rockingham County.

What’s gleaning? It’s the act of gathering fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. When commercial and private growers have more produce than they can harvest, they can partner with NH Gleans, whose staff and volunteers will pick the leftover produce and distribute it to local foodbanks and families in need.

During a staff meeting last year, Merrimack County Extension Teacher Alyssa Lemmermann suggested Strafford County staff partner with NH Gleans so that we could add gleaned produce to our programs. That’s how we met Kelsey, who works with farms and stores in Rockingham and Strafford County.

Some highlights of our partnership include the Cooking Matters Family series of classes in January that Sara Oberle and I conducted at the Revolution Food Pantry in Rochester. The gleaned produce provided by NH Gleans was a boon to the program, and hosting the class at a food pantry meant that any leftover vegetables could be distributed to local families. Kelsey let us know what produce would be available, and from that list we created a menu utilizing as much gleaned produce as possible. Participants tasted and cooked with the produce, and usually took some home, too.

There was plenty of fresh, healthy vegetables to use: one week, our list included 70 pounds of turnips, 20 pounds of parsnips, 40 pounds of sweet potatoes and 30 pounds of cabbage! The menu, developed by Sara, included Baja tacos with roasted root veggies, cabbage slaw, salsa and apple crisp. During another week, we received a box of microgreens, cilantro, pomegranates and citrus fruits. We incorporated these into a food tasting. The little kids loved the micro greens and two little girls left hugging their own container of produce!

Picture of cut watermelon radish

Another fun part of our partnership with NH Gleans is the unexpected and unusual items we receive. The most amazing produce by far has been watermelon radishes – we’ve shown them to anyone who would stay long enough. They are a beautiful radish with a white and green skin that hides the most brilliant pink center. They are showstoppers and kids love them! We’ve served them to kids and adults in all of our programs in the county.

In April, we helped glean and bag carrots from Heron Pond Farm in South Hampton. At the end of the day, we had 1,450 pounds of carrots that were distributed to people in Rockingham and Strafford counties. I personally distributed carrots to seniors at Rochester Housing, kids at Woodman Park Elementary, and families at Dover Housing. This has been such a great connection that benefits both us and our programming on multiple levels. It is such a treat to use produce that would otherwise be wasted, learn about a variety of local produce and watch as local farmers help inspire our participants.