As produce rots in the field, one Florida farmer and an army of volunteers combat ‘a feeling of helplessness’ — one cucumber at a time

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Hank Scott believes the bright green rows of ripening cucumbers are the best yield on his land since his father started the farm in 1963.

During any other spring, he’d oversee an army of workers harvesting cucumbers and shipping truckloads to pickling companies along the East Coast. But the coronavirus pandemic has closed or crippled the businesses where his produce would end up.

So instead, Scott, 64, invited volunteer pickers with the Society of St. Andrew, a Christian hunger relief organization, to glean as much produce as they could and donate it to nearby food banks. Anything green they left behind will likely be plowed back into the ground, feeding no one and adding to the farm’s ballooning losses.

“Between them not being able to make a profit off it and us not being able to take the surplus, there’s just a feeling of helplessness,” said Kathleen Bean, who volunteered to pick with her husband and son at Long & Scott Farms about an hour’s drive northwest of Orlando. After filling trucks and vans, more than two-thirds of the cucumber field remained untouched.

Scott and the volunteer cucumber pickers were trying to bring some sense to what has emerged as one of the most perverse outcomes of the pandemic: farmers forced to destroy fields full of crops while a growing number of families can’t afford enough food.

On one end are produce growers who supply restaurants, canning companies and theme parks that have been closed for weeks. Meanwhile, increasing unemployment and a convulsing economy have sent many families to the foodlines. In the most agonizing instances, hungry mouths are just a few miles from rotting crops, separated by economic turmoil and ruptured supply chains.

As the gleaners rescue vegetable after vegetable, they are both a final lifeline for desperate families and a sign of just how badly the novel coronavirus has kneecapped the systems that are supposed to keep everyone fed.

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