Olathe & Southwest Joco

Volunteers in Olathe, across metro, grow and pick fresh produce to donate

Six-year-old Autumn Hatler of Olathe picks corn for After the Harvest on a farm in Raymore.
Six-year-old Autumn Hatler of Olathe picks corn for After the Harvest on a farm in Raymore. Special to The Olathe News

Canned food might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of food banks, but there’s also a demand for fresh produce. That’s where After the Harvest comes into the picture.

The Kansas City-area non-profit coordinates with farmers all over the metro area, providing volunteers to harvest extra crops and bring produce that might otherwise go to waste directly to food banks and other aid organizations.

“We provide healthy food to hungry people,” said Zach Callaway, gleaning network manager for After the Harvest.

Farmers call After the Harvest for a variety of reasons. They might have a crop that is perfectly good to eat but falls short of the specifications grocery stores or restaurants want. A farmer might not have the workforce to harvest an entire field before it spoils.

“It’s totally safe and good for human consumption, but the size or color might have been not quite right for the store,” Callaway said. “For the most part, we’re usually getting really good stuff.”

Sometimes, extra is planted with donation in mind. That’s what Kathy Dean, president of Uplift, did with her family’s farm in Raymore. She grew an acre of corn — that means about 40,000 ears — just to donate it.

A few weeks ago, After the Harvest volunteers, including Audrey Hatler of Olathe and her three kids, came to pick some of the corn on Dean’s farm. It was their fourth time volunteering with the organization.

“It’s a great family volunteer experience. We’re huge outdoor people, so this is right up our alley,” Hatler said. “People are paying to go pick their own strawberries on farms these days, so to be able to get that experience and do it for good and help other people is a bonus for us.”

A group of Girl Scouts from Kansas City and Independence working on their Silver Awards joined in the picking on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the summer.

“It’s just nice that my hours of time will give somebody else dinner,” said 15-year-old Karlee Kyle of Independence.

Children of all ages can participate, as long as an adult is with them. That was a selling point for Hatler, who was looking for outdoor volunteer opportunities for her kids, ages 3, 6 and 8.

“I was looking for somewhere to be able to volunteer as a family, and there’s just not a lot of places you can volunteer with kids, especially younger ones,” Hatler said.

Hatler also delivered 105 pounds of it to the Second Baptist Church of Olathe. An additional 105 pounds went to the West Central Missouri Community Action Agency’s Raymore office and 1,764 pounds went to Harvesters. The organization works with more than 100 food agencies in the metro area.

“You are at the mercy of the weather, and this season was especially hard for a lot of our farmers. A lot of stuff’s been delayed or diminished because of all the rain we got. … You just can’t plan for it. You just have to roll with it, and our farmers are very flexible. Our volunteers are flexible,” Callaway said.

After the Harvest volunteers pick all kinds of crops — peaches, blueberries, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes and more.

Because of weather and other factors, volunteers don’t find out where in the metro they’ll be picking until about 48 hours before their volunteer time.

So far this year, between actual volunteer harvesting and collecting already-picked excess crops, After the Harvest has collected more than 36,000 pounds of produce.