Imagine rows of tall, lush green corn stalks, enveloping fresh, flavorful golden corn that could be plucked off the plant and eaten right away. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s perfectly good. But it didn’t make it to market this season, so what happens? It gets discarded and goes uneaten, while malnutrition remains a plight faced by households throughout the region.
That’s where Harvest of Hope comes in.
Through the mission trip program offered by the Society of St. Andrew, young participants from areas, notably various parts of North Carolina, volunteered their time and efforts to glean corn from the fields of local farms. The collected corn went to the Northern Neck Food Bank to distribute to its clients.
Many of the participating students participated in last year’s weeklong trip to the Northern Neck, and according to the program’s Ann Hartman of North Carolina, they had made the decision to come back, as opposed to following the four-year rotation and taking the local route.
“There are some mission trips that to me connect with certain groups of people, and this one did with mine. It was like they had a great time,” Hartman said. “It is very easy to understand what they’re doing. “
Hartman added: “It’s hard to say no to teenagers who want to spend their days out picking corn.”
Harvest of Hope centers on educating participants about domestic and global hunger and connecting their study time to the physical labor of gleaning and taking that produce to local food banks.
On Thursday, the youth sloshed through mud and braved a morning downpour as they picked corn from Ronnie Forrester’s Holyoke Farm in Lancaster County. Forrester had set aside a few acres specifically for gleaners, meaning that the corn they harvested will never go to market.
High school junior Katie Conner said it was a little muddy that day, but “worth it.” Sophomore Drew Tiano indicated that he preferred the rain to it being hot.
The program’s Ken Atkins called the rain that day a blessing; not only did they get to spend time with Forrester and learn his farming process, Atkins said, but they were able to glean close to 3,000 pounds, whereas they were only expecting to collect close to 1,000.
Director Bill Leach said that they had talked earlier about taking a stand for their faith.
“Today, they took a stand. They’re out in the rain, uncomfortable conditions where some people would say, ‘We’re only going to go out there if it’s nice, if it’s sunny,’” Leach said. “But no, they’re out there working, getting soaked, taking a stand for what they think is right, and that is to be able to help others.”
He later added, “People are hungry whether it rains or not.”
As for the corn they gleaned…
“The corn is really good!” sophomore Haley Edwards exclaimed. “I love eating that corn!”
Atkins and high school senior Noah Hicks both complimented the fresh corn’s flavor.
“I’ve even eaten some in the field, and it’s perfectly fine and if we wouldn’t have come out, it would just be thrown away,” Tiano contributed. “It’s actually some of the best corn I’ve ever had.”
High school sophomore Rachel Flinn said this trip reinforced the idea that they were actually feeding others in need.
“I think it’s a better experience than last year,” Flinn said, adding, “People definitely don’t realize how much they waste or how many people are hungry that they live near.”
Sophomore Chris Leonard agreed.
“I think honestly it’s changed all of our point-of-view on food,” he said. “They could be your neighbor and they would never let you know.”
Atkins called it a humbling experience to “help someone that you’ll never know.”
Junior Addison Harrison surmised from the trip that if they could use the food that was wasted to feed others, “We wouldn’t have any problems.”
In working closely with the Northern Neck Food Bank, participants were also able to see and help organize donations.
“We see what goes on after we [pick the corn], and that was really cool,” Flinn said. “We went [to the food bank] Wednesday, and from the corn we picked Tuesday, already half of that was gone.”
Leach praised the community for embracing their mission.
“We couldn’t have done it this year without St. Margaret’s and Tappahannock Memorial UMC. Those are the two that gave us lodging and gave us an opportunity to cook,” he said. “They were just a blessing that came upon us.”
That Thursday, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Warsaw welcomed in the volunteers and fed them a hearty lunch that included a variety of sandwiches, fruits and sweets. Leach also expressed his appreciation to Westmoreland State Park for allowing them use of their pool and beach sections.
“You may think that you can’t make an impact in today’s world, and my answer to that is, you’re completely wrong,” Leach said. “Every one of these participants is making an impact today, and they are actually influencing the lives of others.
“What more can you ask for if you want to help somebody?” he said.
For more information on the Society of St. Andrew, visit http://www.endhunger.org.