A SPARKS grant from BPDD allowed Employment Partnerships, Inc. to team up with the Farm to Pantry Project to create the Kickapoo Harvest: Gleaning for Healthy Communities Project. The project, conducted this summer, aimed to increase community-integrated employment for people with disabilities while providing healthy food to people in the community.
During the project, weekly “gleaning” parties – which included people with and without disabilities – harvested the left over vegetables from the fields of small organic farms. These vegetables would otherwise have gone to waste because of oversupply or under-staffed farms. Instead, they were salvaged and distributed to local food pantries. As volunteer participation in harvesting declined, people with disabilities provided the dependable labor force necessary to ensure families in one of Wisconsin’s poorest areas had regular access to fresh produce.
Daniel Chotzen, from Employment Partnerships, Inc., said, “I’m impressed with the way these people with disabilities, who have little or no farming experience, have taken up this work so wholeheartedly. Everybody worked hard and everybody worked together as a team. Their future employability will only increase as they get more experience.”
Below are the results of the project, which spanned seven weeks:
- 180 cases of certified organic produce were “gleaned” from five area farms.
- Three area food pantries, each serving approximately 100 families/week, received weekly produce deliveries. Also, produce was donated to a senior meal site, the Viroqua Community Meal, and two other monthly food pantry programs.
- Five individuals with disabilities worked a total of 124 paid hours and three job coaches received regular employment.
- Five community volunteers participated in the weekly gleaning efforts.
- Eleven public/non-profit agencies, nine private businesses, and five farms cooperated on the project.
- Approximately $1900 in Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) funding accrued to the project based on it being an approved integrated employment site eligible for conducting a DVR Internship.
- The following vegetables were harvested: bok choy, kale, chard, corn, tomatoes, patty pan squash, cucumbers, yellow and green zucchini, cabbage, basil, beets, scallions, lettuce, onions, and peppers.