The State We're In

A lot can be gleaned when we share food

Jun 13, 2024

by Alison Mitchell, Co-Executive Director

On a sunny Monday morning this month, Christine Parauda was up at dawn thinking about spinach. Lots of people eating spinach.

What sounds like a first-grader’s nightmare is for Parauda, the LocalShare coordinator at the nonprofit Foodshed Alliance in Hope, NJ, the ideal way to start the day. By 10 a.m., her team of three “gleaners” – people who pick excess produce to provide to those in need – were due at Circle Brook Farm in Andover Township, where they would start harvesting the leafy greens.

“Bring your sunshine,” the LocalShareNJ volunteer app advised. Gloves were optional. Hiking boots were advised. Water, bug spray, and sunscreen were encouraged.

The gleaners, a combination of LocalShare staff members and volunteers, spent 90 minutes picking and bundling Circle Brook’s surplus of the iron-rich veggie. By noon, they had finished their work in the field and were collecting the farm’s unsold produce brought back from its booths at weekend farmers’ markets – onions, strawberries, peaches and overwintered potatoes have been among the recent offerings. Those leftovers then made their way to a nonprofit or to one of the Foodshed Alliance’s free produce pop-up markets, where food insecure people are welcome to come by and take home what they need to help nourish their families.

For Parauda, the start of the LocalShare season comes with logistical challenges. Too much or too little rain can complicate gleaning opportunities and her volunteer calendar. But it’s also a total delight: “Every season brings its own stories, a collection of really wonderful experiences,” she said. The thousands of pounds of food the program gets into hundreds of kitchens each season is gratifying – in 2023, more than 168,000 pounds of produce was gleaned and donated!

“There’s so much more to it though,” she said. “It’s the overarching feeling of seeing food that isn’t wasted, that people are not just getting fed, but they’re getting fed food fresh from the field.” Many of the 20 farms LocalShare works with are fully organic. Community building is a happy byproduct of the program. “It brings people outdoors with other people, sharing their enthusiasm. The energy is infectious.”

Among the more than 50 outlets that get deliveries are food pantries, senior centers, and social services groups including Jersey Battered Women’s Services in Morristown. Pop-up markets – there were 47 last year – bring partner organizations into the mix that further the cause of helping people whose struggles don’t necessarily end with food insecurity. SNAPEd, for example, sends representatives to teach people how to shop for and cook healthy meals. Norwescap, in Phillipsburg, sends staff members to help low-income people find pathways toward health and sustainable self-reliance.

A foodshed is the geographic region that produces the food for a particular population. New Jersey’s Foodshed Alliance was formed in 2001, through a grant from the Education Foundation of America. Later grants came from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Victoria Foundation via New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s small grant program. The Alliance does much of its work in Warren and Sussex counties. “We try to have an open-arms approach,” Parauda said. Girl Scout gleaners from Hoboken, in Hudson County, also work with LocalShare every year to bring food back to their community. Organizations in other counties have asked for deliveries, and are welcomed. “We want to serve as many people as possible,” Parauda said.

LocalShare started in 2013 as a series of pay-what-you-can dinners made from surplus food from local farms at the First Presbyterian Church in Newton. “They were beautiful, farm-to-fork dinners, where we’d have 250 people and volunteer chefs,” Parauda said. “But from there we started to realize how much extra food there really was, how much of it could be collected and brought to people.” In 2015, the program got a first grant from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. It’s been growing steadily since. By the end of last year, the program had gleaned and donated more than four million servings of food.

Still more growth is the goal. “We need more farmers,” Parauda said. Though the farmers who participate now are incredibly generous, she noted that, “it’s a limited number, and we’re constantly seeking new partnerships.” One of the challenges in getting new farmers to sign on is their difficulty leaving the fields long enough to welcome gleaners this time of year. This is the busy season for farmers, of course!

But Parauda remains optimistic that the program can keep growing. Each season, LocalShare welcomes new school and corporate groups to experience the satisfaction of gleaning. “They’re always glad they came,” she said.

To find out more about the Foodshed Alliance and its LocalShare program, go to They are always open to new volunteer gleaners, drivers and pop-up market helpers.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

About the Authors

Alison Mitchell

Co-Executive Director

John S. Watson, Jr.

Co-Executive Director

Tom Gilbert

Co-Executive Director, 2022-2023

Michele S. Byers

Executive Director, 1999-2021

View their full bios here.


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