LocalShare benefits from generosity of volunteers

AFP Correspondent

BLAIRSTOWN (Dec. 15, 2016) — A series of successful pay-what-you-can dinners in Newton, led to the formation of LocalShare, part of the Foodshed Alliance, a program in northwestern New Jersey that feeds the underprivileged populations of Sussex, Warren, Morris and parts of Passaic counties through the generosity of volunteer gleaners and area farmers.
“We’ve been in existence for four years now as a part of the Foodshed Alliance,” said LocalShare coordinator Christine Parauda, who holds her master’s degree in social work from Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus.
“We thought the idea of a pay-what-you-can dinner might hold some merit, and after talking to local farmers and gathering meat and produce, we invited people who could pay as well as people who couldn’t pay.”
The volunteer group had two other such dinners that each drew about 200 people.
“The LocalShare program started as an idea that there was an abundance of produce out there that farmers might be able to donate,” Parauda said.
After those three dinners were held four years ago, “we found it was an enormous amount of work that went into planning these events and the amount of food left over was also unbelievable. LocalShare was born as a result of that.”
Parauda was quick to credit the farmers who participate in the LocalShare program, as a certain level of trust must be established by both farmers and volunteer gleaners from LocalShare. Participating farms include Race Farm and Caristi Farm in Blairstown, Longmeadow Farm in Hope, E&R Mathez and Brook Hollow farms in Columbia, the Godlewsky Farm in Allamuchy,  Kittatiny Mountain Farm in Montague, Circle Brook farm in Andover and Breezee Hill and Voodoo Farms, Hardwick.
LocalShare’s groups of volunteer gleaners often gather produce that is not saleable for the farmers, “it could be too many tomatoes, a frost is coming and they don’t have time to pick something, so what’s been really important to us is developing good relationships with these farmers, they trust we’re going to respect their land and make good use of the food they donate.
“We glean from these 10 farms and deliver the produce right from the day of gleaning to social service programs, soup kitchens and food pantries, there are about 45 programs and groups we deliver to.”
To get volunteers, LocalShare has partnered with a number of area civic groups and churches, “so we’ve even been able to go into schools and teach kids how to make apple sauce and do other programs that are cooking-related, trying to spread the word about healthy, natural foods.”
Parauda, who participated as a panelist in the recent New Jersey Gleaning Summit in September at Fernbrook Farms, Chesterfield, has teams of six to 15 volunteers that visit farms periodically. The group hopes to obtain a refrigerated truck within the next year or two, to make transport of fresh produce that much easier, as right now, volunteers use their own cars and pick-up trucks to haul produce to various locations.
“Sometimes we organize larger gleanings.  Last year, a couple of groups came out from [chocolate maker] M&M Mars in Hackettstown for corporate service days,” she said.  She also credited several groups that have been exceptional volunteer gleaning partners this season: the Hope Club of Morris Hills High School, the Blairstown Rotary Club, the Blair Academy students and faculty, the Ridge and Valley Charter School, 4-H, the Girl Scout Troop 104 and Freylinghuysen PTA and students.  Parauda said the Morris Hills High School Hope Club gleaned apples and then prepared apple sauce earlier this fall in the school’s certified kitchen for local food pantries to use in coming months.
Paruauda works part-time from a home office as LocalShare coordinator from a grant from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
She also manages the art gallery at Blair Academy, a private school in Blairstown.
“Getting people out on farms and helping them realize where their food comes from and the value of the local farming system and what it really means, like sustainability and all of these larger issues are things we can weave in once people get there,” she said.
“My job is a labor of love. I have always been involved in social work and to work outdoors and with fresh produce is the culmination of all of my interests,” she said.
Meanwhile the need for produce for area food banks and pantries is a win-win situation for farmers with excess food that would otherwise rot away, and for needy people in northwestern New Jersey. Parauda did stress her group could use a large refrigerated truck, and like any non-profit group, can always use more volunteer gleaners. 
“This past summer I was invited to a conference at Harvard University about food waste,” she said, “and policy in this area is becoming readily available, people are starting to think more about food waste and eating locally.  All of that filters back to service agencies and people in need.”