SoSA reaches gleaning goal thanks to corn co-op


Special to the Advocate

The Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) opened its Mississippi regional office in January with a first-year goal of saving and distributing 1 million pounds of fresh produce. 

With the August completion of a huge sweet corn gleaning project, SoSA-Mississippi exceeded that goal by 135,000 pounds. Now, Bob Fritchey, director of the SoSA office, reports he is pushing for 1.5 million pounds by year-end. He thinks it’s doable with time left in the fall harvest season for gleaning excess produce that will otherwise go to waste. 

Fritchey was excited about the sweet corn project. 

“Between drought conditions and one of Mississippi’s hottest summers on record, the corn just started ‘popping’. It was coming in faster than it could be shipped to market, and truckloads of sugary-sweet corn were destined for the landfill,” Fritchey reported. “Thanks to the wonderful, generous growers, hard-working SoSA volunteers and last-minute truckers who came through for us, SoSA was able to prevent that from happening.” 

Mike Waldmann, director of SoSA operations, learned about the corn project last summer from the Mississippi Department of Agriculture while laying the groundwork for the new operation. Contact was made with Roy and Bonita Nichols and Jim Robertson, three of the principals in the MSCP sweet corn co-op located in Indianola and locally referred to as Delta Harvest. Once the co-op learned how SoSA does gleaning, food salvage and distribution, SoSA received access to all of this season’s rejected crops. 

SoSA gleaned 17 tractor-trailer loads. 

The Society of St. Andrew is a nationwide nonprofit hunger-relief ministry (Advance #801600) that gleans America's fields and feeds America's hungry. It salvages fresh produce that is, for various reasons, not commercially marketable and donates it to food banks and serving agencies for the hungry. It is the nation’s largest gleaner of fresh produce donated to feed hungry Americans, each year saving as much as 40 million pounds of perfectly good, nutritious produce that will not make it to market. 

Delta Harvest farmers planted 1,500 acres with a specially developed hybrid sweet corn, timing the planting so corn could be continuously harvested and marketed from the end of June to August. “But if you want to make God laugh,” said Fritchey, “tell him your plan.” 

But no matter how well engineered the corn plant is or how well planned the planting and harvesting are, mother nature, wholesale buyers and consumers all play a part in a lot of sweet corn being rejected. 

If a stand of corn doesn’t produce an acceptable percentage of ears that are completely filled out to the end of the cob, the whole field is rejected. This is when SoSA volunteers go into the fields to glean thousands of pounds of perfectly good sweet corn. 

“When this sweet corn gleaning operation started,” said Jessica Burks, SoSA-Mississippi’s program coordinator, “I wasn’t quite sure how it would go. I had no idea how hard it would be or how hot it would be. For weeks we lined up volunteers to pick in the fields and feeding agencies to receive truckloads of corn. As the heat started to rise, the corn started coming in faster and faster. 

“We moved 17 tractor-trailer loads of corn in eight days, salvaging 865,300 pounds. Many hungry people were blessed with nutritious, delicious corn, not only in Mississippi, but in Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas, where we shipped truckloads to very grateful food banks and smaller agencies that rarely receive fresh produce, including some still helping with (Hurricane) Katrina relief,” Jessica reported. “A number of the agencies that got corn called to tell us that their clients said it was the best sweet corn they have ever had in their lives.”

Fritchey said he is excited about the prospects for next year’s sweet corn season. “The Delta Harvest co-op has seen that by working with SoSA they can be both efficient and profitable, and also be generous benefactors to the hungry throughout Mississippi and surrounding states. 

“Nichols Enterprises, manager of the co-op, has invited SoSA back next year, saying how impressed they were with how efficiently and effectively SoSA worked within their tight harvesting schedules and pressing needs.”