The monthly update for our most dedicated supporters from Gidi Kroch
I would like to share some insights into the Gleaning (Leket) program. Although rescuing fresh produce from farmers is one of the staples of Leket, gleaning can be a challenge for us. When the market prices for fresh fruit and vegetables are high, demand is at its utmost peak, and we struggle to maintain the flow of fresh produce. When the market prices are low, we receive many calls from farmers about availability of excess produce and sometimes, they are offended when we do not come and collect their surplus fruit and vegetables.
What influences these trends? While some argue that it is the retailers that set market prices and there is no real free market for fresh produce, others will say that although this is true, the fact is that the farmers do not have a strategic growing plan that they follow. At best, it is based on last year’s prices and at worst, on gut feeling and hunches. We are not here to judge anyone, our position is to try to rescue as much produce as is possible and to study the trends and follow the market to see what will affect the availability of the produce.
So far this year, 2020, Israel has been blessed with quite significant rainfall and Lake Kinneret is almost completely full, with plans to soon open up the Degania dam and release water to the Southern Jordan River, for the first time since 1992. While the rainfall is a blessing, the cold temperatures stopped the growth of vegetables in the fields thus creating a shortage in the market. Consequently, prices increased and Leket, as a result, received less produce or smaller quantities. This creates a logistical nightmare where we need to decide if it is financially feasible to pick a field or to send a truck where the alternative is to purchase from the wholesalers. Of course, we would never purchase, but the wholesale price is our benchmark. If our overall cost for the produce is less than the wholesale price – it’s a go. If it is more than the wholesale price – no go.
Another challenge resulting from all the rainfall is the condition of the land. Specifically – mud. We cannot send our harvesters to pick the fields immediately after the rain stops, due to the mud. The problem is not the crew; it is the truck that has to collect the produce. It cannot enter a field and risk getting stuck in the mud. At times, if available, we will have a tractor on site to bring the produce out of the fields and directly to the truck, but this is costly and time consuming and not usually feasible for us.
In January and February 2020, we had 37 days of rain, about 1.5 times more than in a regular winter season. Coupled with the mud, this presented a huge challenge for our Gleaning teams. With all hands on deck, we managed to maintain last year’s output, just, 5.4 million lbs. Two large projects contributed to a significant portion of the produce. The first was a field of potatoes that did not grow properly, most looked like a snowman, a few balls connected together. While it was a challenge to peel, it was still readily accepted by our NPO partners, as potatoes are one of the 5 produce staples in the Mediterranean diet. The second was, and still is, an onion field. We expect to glean over 300 tons from the same field continuing well into March. While for the farmers it was a loss, partially covered by Kanat (agricultural insurance), for us it was a miracle. As in business, someone’s loss turns out to be someone else’s gain. In this case, the loss was not too big for the farmers as they are insured and Leket’s recipients benefitted.
We are on track to meet our goal for this year, 38 million lbs., to support our dependents with fresh nutritious produce. As Guy Yehoshua, the Director of the Leket (Gleaning) Program says; “As the weather changes and starts to warm up, it will be interesting to see the yield. If all of the stunted plants start growing and produce at the same time – the market will be overflowing with produce and we will have much to do”. We will know in the coming weeks.