Salem Harvest

This photo essay is part of “We Are the Change,” a series telling the stories of local causes. View all the “We Are the Change” essays.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you.”
— Leviticus 23:22

What does a dictate to Moses from several millennia ago have to do with any of us in the year 2014? Based on the mission of local nonprofit Salem Harvest, everything. The founding board of directors took to heart the practice of gleaning the fields of local growers because they understood that the need for food in our community wasn’t limited to a single holiday season; instead, it is an every month, every day necessity.

As stated on the organization’s website, Salem Harvest connects farmers and backyard growers with volunteer pickers (some 3,000 volunteers since the organization started in 2010) to harvest fruits and vegetables that otherwise would go to waste. Half of each harvest is donated to the Marion-Polk Food Share or its affiliated food pantries, and volunteer pickers take home the remainder.

Since its inception, Salem Harvest has donated nearly a quarter-million pounds of produce to help alleviate hunger in our community. As of August — with much of the harvest season still to come — the nonprofit had already donated 112,629 pounds of food in 2014.

None of this incredible effort could have happened without the support of the organization’s all-volunteer board of directors, 3,000 volunteers, the farming community and some 13 sponsors.

Salem Harvest still faces challenges as well. Goals for 2014 and 2015 include: developing more partnerships with growers to expand the network of farmland for harvesting; educating the community that Marion-Polk Food Share provides fresh produce in addition to canned goods; and partnering with 25 Master Gardeners to teach people how to grow food in their own backyards.

But the nonprofit’s number-one challenge is the same as that faced by all farmers: the weather. Last year, donations dropped due to poor growing conditions — and no dictate from any past millennia could change that. So let’s all hope for a fruitful close to the 2014 harvest season.

Contact Salem Harvest

Phone: 503-400-6618
Email: volunteer@salemharvest.org (to volunteer); crops@salemharvest.org (to donate crops); president@salemharvest.org (other questions)
Online: salemharvest.org

Joel Zak has been a professional fine art photographer for more than 25 years and has an avid interest in documentary photography. See more of his work online at Zj Images.

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Left to right: Beth Gaines, Lauren Jensen, Roz Shirack and Tracy Fox talk at the registration table before beginning a harvest at Jensen Farms in South Salem in late June.

Luana Parker with Salem Harvest gives the pickers guidance during the pre-picking orientation meeting at Jensen Farms.

Steve Morton, head chef and program director with Marion-Polk Food Share, reaches for a cluster of cherries during the Jensen Farms harvest.

Pickers harvest cherries at a private residence in early June.

Rick Gaupo, president and CEO for Marion-Polk Food Share, helps out at the early June harvest.

Alexea Jensen, daughter of assistant harvest director Lauren Jensen, picks cherries.

Martin Parker volunteers to drive in full buckets using a Salem Harvest-owned ATV at Jensen Farms.

Rob Easton and Elise Bauman load cherries into clear plastic clamshell containers. By preparing the clamshells in the field, it speeds fresh produce through the Marion-Polk Food Share warehouse and into homes of the needy.

Dick Yates (left) and Martin Parker take a break from loading fresh produce into a truck that goes to Marion-Polk Food Share.

Cherries ready to travel to Marion-Polk Food Share.

Mike Junger uses a forklift to load food donations onto trucks at Marion-Polk Food Share’s distribution warehouse.

Marion-Polk Food Share trucks ready to carry food to neighborhood pantries, schools and other distribution sites.