By Volunteer Coordinator Mariah Friend: Standing in the middle of a field on a hot summer day, ears of corn stretch in every direction. The rows are narrow and the sweet corn is plentiful. A group of twenty-five volunteers are spread out over an acre of land, each one making their way down a row and harvesting into buckets.

The corn is so good you can eat it raw. It is perfect and ripe and will go to food agencies like Harvesters to help provide fresh produce to people in need. In a short three hour window of time, we glean 2,451 lbs. of it by hand. It feels good to feel the weight of it as it’s loaded into the van in red, mesh bags. Some of the volunteers offer to take some directly to a pantry in their neighborhood, or stop by one on their way home.

Wasted! The Story of Food Waste

Looking around at the sweaty faces, young and old, they are all smiling. We may be tired, but we have done something good here, something that will benefit others and make us proud at the end of the day. Yet, there are countless rows of unpicked corn baking in the July sun. There are rows we didn’t get to because we ran out of time. There are thousands of pounds that will be left to the birds and worms and soil. It’s a bittersweet moment.

When we talk about why we are doing what we’re doing, whether it’s gleaning strawberries or chestnuts or turnips, the answer is obvious. People are hungry and they need healthy food to eat and give to their families. In fact, in Kansas and Missouri, there are 1.3 million people—including half a million children—who don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. In Kansas City alone, 141,500 people seek emergency food assistance each month and twenty five percent of those are children.

Yet, every year, Americans throw away more than enough nutritious food to feed each hungry family, senior, and child in the U.S. –nearly one hundred billion pounds—according to the USDA. Over half (fifty-two percent) of vegetables and fruit are wasted and food that could nourish our citizens ends up in landfills and rots in fields. When I look at the field of green and yellow corn still waving in the breeze, I am dismayed.

I am dismayed because I don’t want one ear of corn to be wasted or one more mouth to go hungry.

I know I’m not alone. Nor do I have all of the answers. Which is why I’m inviting you to join the conversation.  After the Harvest, in collaboration with NourishKC are offering four more free screenings of the important and timely documentary “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” starring Anthony Bourdain.

At each screening we’re bringing farmers, city planners, chefs, and teachers to dialogue and share their perspective on panels with time for Q&A from the audience. From farm to fork, we’re coming together as a community to change the story of food waste and hunger. This is an opportunity to not only identify a growing crisis, but to be the leaders of solutions. We can’t do it without you. Look for a screening near you and reserve your seat here!

If I’ve learned anything from gleaning, it’s that together, we can do the impossible.