“We don’t need much,” says local Long & Foster real estate agent and farmer Darin Greear. “Everything we raise is for food banks and donation. I can do it and I like to do it. It’s my hobby. Other people can do things like that and they don’t, and it’s a shame.”
Greear and his wife Tabitha keep a farm in Riner. They plant alfalfa and, according to Greear, “I always scatter a few turnip seeds to give to the neighbors.” A few years ago, however, he found a much larger package of turnip seeds than he usually bought, for almost the same price, and decided to try planting them.
“I fertilized it and we had all the rain, and the turnips outgrew the alfalfa,” says Greear. “We had thousands and thousands of pounds of turnips. I got on the phone and called all the food banks in the area.”
After giving away a huge portion of them, he still had lots left over. Eventually someone at Second Harvest got him in touch with the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA), a charity group that helps coordinate food donations. The Society holds what it calls “gleanings,” when volunteers go to participating farmers’ fields to gather produce.
“Some farmers have us pick what the harvesters didn’t get,” says SoSA’s Sarah Ramey. “Darin is a little different. He plants turnips with the wheat. Then he allows us to come get the turnips.” She says SoSA is always interested in hearing from farmers willing to make donations.
The local group, out of Bedford County, helped move 60,000 pounds of turnips to over 40 area food banks that first year. “I said, ‘Well, shoot, I can do this every year if you want,’” Greear reveals. “They said, ‘Would you?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’”
Now, Greear estimates, they average about 80,000 pounds of turnips each year. Darin turns over five or six acres of his property to them, growing food and allowing SoSA to come in and take it all away to feed others. As for his farm overall, “I lease the majority of it out to several different partners in the area,” he says.
In addition to providing vegetables to the hungry, the Greears raised corn for the purpose of selling it and handing over all the proceeds to the Society of St Andrew. Greear also donated 150 dozen ears to the Radford Worship Center’s food pantry. With the corn sales totaling $650 this year, the Society of St. Andrew will be able to purchase and deliver about 32,500 servings of food.
Many of Greears’ partners participate as well; one of them uses his portion of the farm to raise pumpkins and winter squashes, such as pie pumpkins, spaghetti squash, blue Hubbards, butternuts, acorn squash, carnivals and cushaws. Greears’ estimate of 15,000 pounds of squashes donated was low; he says that according to SoSA, it was more like 30,000.
As with any effort, SoSA has coordinators who gather the volunteers and let them know when and where to go for each gleaning. Coordinators are usually in regular communication with farmers, volunteers and food pantries. “We have several farmers that say, ‘Yeah, come on out, I’ve got something for you,’” says Ramey. “It comes to us in different ways. We try to send the gleanings to the local pantry. We have fast turnover. The food is on somebody’s table that evening. We encourage people to come out and help feed the hungry.”
“The way I see it,” says Greear, “if you have a chance to help someone and you don’t take it, shame on you.
Harvesting at Greear’s farm is ongoing; volunteers are still needed. Harvesting dates and times are Saturday, Nov. 2 from 9 a.m. to noon, Sunday, Nov. 3 from 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, Nov. 5 from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Nov. 9 from 9 a.m. to noon, Sunday, Nov. 10 from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Nov. 16 from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday Nov. 23 from 9 a.m. to noon, Thursday, Nov. 28 from 9 a.m. to noon and Friday, Nov. 29 from 9 a.m. to noon.
To volunteer, contact Darin Greear at 540-320-5859 or Darin@RinerVa.com or Sarah Ramey at 1- 800-333-4597 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the scheduled gleaning days.