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Bennington / Peterborough

Her mission is feeding others

Bennington woman collects fresh produce for community suppers, food banks

  • Rose Gershfield paints a wedge of cheese on the arm of Joe Sawyer, a cheesemaker from Walpole who was selling at the Peterborough farmers' market. Sawyer said he's donated cheese to community kitchens and food banks in the past, but the Gershfield family's food gleaning project new to him.

    Rose Gershfield paints a wedge of cheese on the arm of Joe Sawyer, a cheesemaker from Walpole who was selling at the Peterborough farmers' market. Sawyer said he's donated cheese to community kitchens and food banks in the past, but the Gershfield family's food gleaning project new to him. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rose Gershfield mixes colors as she works on painting a wedge of cheese on the arm of Joe Sawyer, a cheesemaker from Walpole who was selling at the Peterborough farmers' market. Sawyer said he's donated cheese to community kitchens and food banks in the past, but the Gershfield family's food gleaning project new to him.

    Rose Gershfield mixes colors as she works on painting a wedge of cheese on the arm of Joe Sawyer, a cheesemaker from Walpole who was selling at the Peterborough farmers' market. Sawyer said he's donated cheese to community kitchens and food banks in the past, but the Gershfield family's food gleaning project new to him. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park.

    Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Dan Knisell and Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park.

    Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Dan Knisell and Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Dan Knisell and Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park.

    Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Dan Knisell and Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park.

    Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Hazel Gershfield, right, picks up unsold food from Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park.

    Hazel Gershfield, right, picks up unsold food from Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Hazel Gershfield collects unsold food at farmers market in Peterborough.

    Hazel Gershfield collects unsold food at farmers market in Peterborough. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rose Gershfield paints a wedge of cheese on the arm of Joe Sawyer, a cheesemaker from Walpole who was selling at the Peterborough farmers' market. Sawyer said he's donated cheese to community kitchens and food banks in the past, but the Gershfield family's food gleaning project new to him.
  • Rose Gershfield mixes colors as she works on painting a wedge of cheese on the arm of Joe Sawyer, a cheesemaker from Walpole who was selling at the Peterborough farmers' market. Sawyer said he's donated cheese to community kitchens and food banks in the past, but the Gershfield family's food gleaning project new to him.
  • Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park.
  • Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Dan Knisell and Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park.
  • Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Dan Knisell and Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park.
  • Hazel Gershfield, right, collects unsold food from Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park.
  • Hazel Gershfield, right, picks up unsold food from Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in Lyndeborough at the farmers' market in Peterborough's Depot Square park.
  • Hazel Gershfield collects unsold food at farmers market in Peterborough.

In the Middle Ages, the field workers who followed behind harvesters, picking up odds and ends of grain so that nothing was left behind, were known as gleaners. It’s a word that’s fallen into disuse, but Hazel Gershfield of Bennington is working hard to bring that “waste-not, want-not” approach back to the Monadnock region.

Gershfield is a modern gleaner. Often accompanied by her three children — Owen, 7, Jessie, 8, and Rose, 11 — she visits farms, farmers markets and small grocery stores throughout Hillsborough County, asking for donations of leftover food and picking it up to be distributed to food banks, soup kitchens or area community suppers.

“We’re trying to help people who may not be able to afford fresh, healthy locally grown products,” Gershfield said on a recent Wednesday, as she prepared to canvass the farmers market in Depot Square in Peterborough at the end of the afternoon. “This is not waste. It’s perfectly good food. We want it to be eaten, not tossed.”

Since she started gleaning in July, Gershfield has collected more than 1,100 pounds of food. At farmers markets, she brings several plastic tubs, which she and her children load with donated vegetables and bread, stack in her large van and then deliver to a site where the food is needed.

“Today, we’ll probably drive to Manchester and give it to the N.H. Food Bank,” she said. “I try to match the glean with the right place to deliver it. Sometimes I’ll store food at home until I find the best place. I’m building a network.”

Gershfield’s job is funded by a six-month grant from the University of New Hampshire’s Farm to School program, administered by the Hillsborough County Conservation District.

“We’re applying for more funding. I’d love to continue this next year,” said Gershfield, who homeschools her children. “The job is perfect for me, I can bring my kids. They really help.”

She said many of the farmers and market vendors she has talked with have been very supportive.

“They’re extremely caring. And if I’m here, they don’t have to put in the extra work of taking away their leftovers or arranging to donate it themselves.”

Several vendors at the market said they were happy to support Gershfield’s work.

“If I have excess and it’s not moving, it’s great to have someone to give it to,” said Gene Jonas of Hungry Bear Farm in Wilton. “We’re happy to give. Otherwise it goes to compost, or to the chickens or the ducks and we don’t grow it for the birds.”

“We’d been driving [it] to Milford,” said Amy Trudeau of Fox Den Farm in New Boston of her remnants. “Hazel will find different avenues for the food. You’re not just unloading it in one place.”

Gershfield uses her time at farmers markets to spread the gospel of gleaning. Her daughter Rose usually sets up a face-painting table, where she’ll gladly brush a design on a child’s cheek in exchange for donations that Gershfield uses to buy local produce to supplement the donations she collects.

“We’re trying to reach out to home gardeners, to orchards, to anyone with an excess,” Gershfield said. “They can call, and I’ll go pick it up. Some CSAs have excess amounts of food. There are so many opportunities that I haven’t gleaned yet.”

She said she’s hoping to do a large gleaning at one of the area apple orchards later this fall, with the help of volunteers from the University of New Hampshire and local 4-H groups.

“Everybody I talk to is so receptive,” Gershfield said. “With this economy, it could be you or me at the food pantry tomorrow. This is the food that helps you deal with stress. If someone can’t afford to buy food, I want them to have a chance to eat healthy vegetables.”

For more information, Gershfield can be reached by phone at 547- 5417 or by email at hgersh@up.net.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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