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Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs Press Release
Student "Gleaning" program seeks to improve quality of food available
Dartmouth junior Becca Heller led an effort that prepared more than 1350 meals for the hungry this fall. Total cost: $12.
Heller is the innovator behind a program to harvest unused vegetables from local farms and turn them into nutritious meals for hungry families. Under the program, college students picked and collected leftover produce at more than 10 farms and brought it back to campus. With the help of a volunteer caterer, the students turned the vegetables into packaged, frozen meals. Not only are these meals more nutritious than those typically donated to food pantries, they're also vegetarian, lactose-free and kosher.
"When we studied the local area last summer as part of our Environmental Studies course," Heller says, "we found that it wasn't a lack of calories that people had, it was a lack of nutrient-rich food, specifically fruits and vegetables."
Heller initiated a project by polling the Dartmouth College Students Fighting Hunger group and talking to local hunger relief organizations about the ways in which student energy could best be put to use.
"Sometimes students can be seen as coming in and pretending to have all the answers," Heller says. "We really wanted to learn how we could help the most."
Heller learned that by working with local farmers she could have access to a large amount of unpicked produce that might otherwise go to waste. She initiated picking sessions where students traveled to farms and worked with farmers to harvest produce.
"It was extremely generous of the farmers to let us go tromping around in what is essentially their income," she said. "Many times we'd go home with more than we expected. Everyone wanted to help."
Back at campus, in the kosher kitchen of Dartmouth's Roth Center for Jewish Life, students prepared packaged, frozen meals designed to appeal to the widest swathe of palettes, both young and old, including corn chowder, squash soup and baked, stuffed apples. They then donated the meals to local food pantries.
"One of the biggest barriers for people when it comes to vegetables is that they don't know how to cook them," Heller says. "We tried to make things as simple as possible. People would say 'my kid won't eat carrots.' So we'd develop a recipe of carrots baked with brown sugar. It's simple, but it works."
Toward this end Heller and the Students Fighting Hunger are developing a cook book focused on simple recipes for vegetables requiring only ingredients likely available through food shelters. They've titled this project "Adopt a Vegetable" and have parceled out the work to other student groups on campus. For example, a Dartmouth fraternity has adopted the tomato and is creating recipes to be included in the book. Local chefs are also donating their expertise.
Heller says that community outreach and education is one of the keys to defeating hunger. In addition to increasing the quality of food available, she says it is important to reach out to those who may be unaware of available resources.
"More than half of people eligible for food stamps don't know it," Heller said. "A steady diet of inexpensive carbohydrates like ramen noodles and packaged macaroni is a problem. By giving people greater access to highly nutritious foods like vegetables, we're dealing with hunger in a much healthier way."
For more information, see Putting food on the community table, published in Vox of Dartmouth.
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