By Clare Howard
GateHouse News Service
Posted Dec 14, 2009 @ 02:03 PM
PEORIA, Ill. —
Pumpkin pie, or lack of it, is making central Illinois part of a national discussion about food waste and hunger in America.
Central Illinois is where most of the country's commercially produced canning pumpkins are grown. National media focused on the area last month, explaining that unusually wet weather this fall meant literally thousands of pumpkins on 5,000 to 6,000 acres of farmland could not be harvested. The pumpkins will be plowed under.
The country's largest not-for-profit, charitable food-gleaning organization says that didn't need to happen.
The Society of St. Andrew, an organization that gathers food for pantries and soup kitchens, based in Big Island, Va., points to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics indicating 96 billion pounds of food are wasted each year in America. That's one ton of food for every hungry person in this country, said Steven M. Waldmann, St. Andrew's executive director.
"There is an ethical issue in this. We are a faith-based organization, and it's not right to let good food go to waste," he said. "This does not take food off your table or mine, but it makes better use of the resources we have."
The Society of St. Andrew has 30,000 volunteers nationwide, including operations in Illinois. Each year, the organization gleans 20 million to 30 million pounds of fresh produce.
Waldmann said there is no liability issue involved with the decision to allow gleaning.
"Good Samaritan laws apply as long as the food is suitable to eat and is OK for market, then we can glean it," he said.
In general, good Samaritan laws protect people who volunteer to help others.
Libby owns the pumpkins and in typical years processes the pumpkins grown in central Illinois at its Morton facility. The Morton operation supplies 80 percent to 90 percent of the nation's canned pumpkins.
Libby spokeswoman Roz O'Hearn said the corporation would not consider allowing its pumpkins to be picked for food pantries or soup kitchens.
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