A patch of a farm north of Hillsborough looks more like well-organized weeds than the rows of cabbage that were planted there last fall.
Cabbage grows new leaves from the inside out, so heavy rain late this spring followed by warm weather made many of the plants split open and grow unsightly sprouts.
Much of the cabbage is still filled with nutrients in spite of its appearance. But it’s not worth taking to market, where only clean heads of cabbage are wanted, and yields significant enough for a payday are needed to make it worth the effort.
An estimated 40 percent of edible crops lay to waste in fields around North Carolina. Durham-based Society of St. Andrew sent program director Rick Richards and a couple of volunteers last week to stop that from happening in the Hillsborough field. It took a few hours for the group to pluck heads of cabbage and clean leaves for people in need of fresh vegetables.
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Last year, staff and volunteers recovered 7.2 million pounds of similar crops from farms of all sizes and types around the state. Food is processed and distributed to people in need, with groups including the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and neighborhood volunteers delivering much of the produce.
A lot of times, the problem has nothing to do with weather.
Gerry Sutton, owner of Brook Hill Farms, grows sweet potatoes on a Johnston County farm. Sutton recently gave six tractor-trailer loads of sweet potatoes, weighing more than 240,000 pounds, to the Society of St. Andrew.
“They’re good potatoes, there was just no market, and it’s time-sensitive, so you have to do something with it,” Sutton said. “It doesn’t make good sense to let it rot. We’re trying to help.”
St. Andrew, according to scripture, was a disciple of Jesus Christ who found a boy with fish and loaves of bread that were multiplied to feed the masses.
“Let us love not only in words, but in deed and in truth,” said Richards, reciting 1 John 3:18, a verse that serves as a mantra for the ministry. “Most of the folks that work here, it’s a way of doing what we feel called to do. There’s a massive amount of waste, and it’s ironic with people in North Carolina who need the food, but there’s an opportunity to fill that need.”
High season for the group comes after fall and spring harvests, and the peak of activity is when sweet potatoes are in season. The group recovers a few million pounds of sweet potatoes each year. With a lot of volunteers, the entire process of gleaning, cleaning, bagging and loading trucks can be completed in a day’s work.
The group can always use volunteers who are ready to get their hands dirty. To volunteer or donate money, go to www.endhunger.org.