EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - On a hot Friday morning before Memorial Day, volunteers were hard at work planting eggplant, tomatoes, beans and other veggies here in East Brunswick as part of an initiative by the activist group Farmers Against Hunger. The plot on Fresh Ponds Road was donated by Jim Giamarese, and the labor was provided by corporate volunteers and local farmers. The purpose was to support MCFOODS, the Middlesex County Food Bank, in their effort to supply fresh, local produce to those in need in New Jersey.
This is the first time that Farmers against Hunger had actually grown food at Giamarese Farm, though the group has participated in gleanings for several years at the location, often with the assistance of Rutgers students. Gleaning is a farming practice with ancient roots in which farmers would leave an area, often the four corners of a crop, unharvested so that the poor of the surrounding area could gather some fruits and vegetables to feed themselves and their families. Gleaning is an act of charity, a tzedakah, a good deed. Late harvest gleaning at Giamarese Farms was organized by Rutgers University to provide fresh greens and fruits to local food banks and soup kitchens like Elijah's Promise or the Franklin Food Bank.
This time, however, Farmers Against Hunger, under the guidance of Elyse Yerrapathruni were starting from the beginning by planting young vegetable plants that will be tended later on by more volunteers and gleaned when ready. Executive Director of the Crisis Room at Aldersgate Methodist Church of East Brunswick Diane Hutchins was there, busily giving some new eggplants someplace to grow. "The Crisis Room is happy to have all the produce that comes to us through MCFOODS. I am glad to help," she said.
Pre-school Family Workers from the Puerto Rican Action Board (PRAB) in New Brunswick Aurelin Alvarez and Joanna Crespo took a "volunteer day" from work to help out at the farm. So did Bala Vellalapalayam Sathyamoothy from the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch corporate office in Pennington. Adding to the planters were a happy team from Forester's Financial in Edison. Rounding out the group was Yolanda Jackson, a hydroponic farmer from Burlington County.
Moving forward, volunteers are still necessary to sustain the project. MCFOODS has already reached out to Boy Scouts of America Troop #223 of East Brunswick to help keep the growing going. Says troop representative Jesseria Lovelace, "Thanks to the generosity of farmer Jim Giamarese, they now have their own small Farmers Against Hunger plot at Giamarese Farm this season. All of the crops harvested from the plot this summer will be donated to local hunger relief agencies. Due to the wonderful relationship we have formed with the MCFOODS team, they asked if the Boy Scouts would be willing to help from time to time. And of course, I shared we would love to help our community continue their fight against hunger."
Interested farmers and gleaners can also contact Farmers Against Hunger and volunteer to help in the process of moving food to those who need it. NJ Farmers Against Hunger uses the help of more than 1,200 volunteers annually to glean fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms, reducing food waste and providing nutritious meals to community organizations serving those in need.
Jim Giamarese was a founding member of Farmers Against Hunger (FAH,) which was started in 1996 as a way to enable farmers throughout New Jersey to contribute their extra produce to those in need. Transportation of the produce was the most challenging part for busy farmers, especially at harvest time. When farmers are in the midst of growing and harvesting, there is little time to have employees truck produce to a non-paying destination. And, for the most part, the food banks or pantries did not have vans, trucks or drivers to go and get the produce at a moment’s notice.
With the financial support of the Bonner Foundation to purchase their first truck, Farmers Against Hunger was founded. Through sustained partnerships with colleges and congregations, the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation has a mission to improve the lives of individuals and communities by helping meet the basic needs of nutrition and educational opportunity.