Local Program Brings New Meaning to ‘Farm to Table’ for Isaiah 58 Ministries

Volunteers from Eden’s Gleaners work in a nearby corn field. Photo courtesy of Isaiah 58 Ministries.

Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. Lev. 19:9-10

Sometimes it’s easy to forget where our food comes from; but the Rev. Karen Pepmeier and the Rev. Dr. Kristen Leslie of UCC-related Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Mo., never do. For the past five years, Karen and Kristen have been the genius organizational team behind the Eden Seminary’s gleaning project, the Eden Gleaners. This program directly benefits half a dozen food pantries in St Louis, including Isaiah 58 Ministries, and as many in Indiana where the food is grown.  

Karen grew up on a farm in Indiana and knows multiple generations of farmers in Knox and Sullivan counties, Indiana. These farmers are only too glad to share the bounty of their fields each year with those who often do without. Once crops are harvested from the fields, Lonny and half a dozen other farmers in the area, contact Karen. She and Kristen, and any others available to help, jump in the car and make the three and a half hour drive to Indiana. Upon arrival, they glean the remaining produce while it is still in peak condition and before the fields are turned over. Often there are folks on the Indiana end who will work the fields with them. Once their hard work is done they share a meal and celebrate the bounty.

This year alone, Karen and Kristen have made 13 trips to pick corn, potatoes, squash, pumpkins, broccoli and asparagus. Karen expects they will be making additional trips, as late as December, to gather the last of the broccoli. As a result of those efforts, over 12,000 pounds of fresh produce have been shared with food pantries and the communities they serve here in St Louis and in Indiana. Karen and Kristen also manage an extensive garden on the Eden Seminary campus to further support local pantries.  

“We feel very fortunate to be recipients of such an abundance of fresh food from the Eden Gleaners,” said the Rev. Brenda Booth, executive director of Isaiah 58 Ministries. “As we strive to provide healthy and nutritious food to our guests, and as the needs within our community continue to increase, it thrills me to know that this food is not going to waste, and is instead getting into the hands of people who really need and appreciate it. What a blessing!”

Isaiah 58 Ministries’ guests have come to look forward to the fresh-from-the-field produce that Karen and Kristen deliver to its doorstep throughout the growing season. The generosity of all of those involved in the project allows Isaiah 58 Ministries to stretch donations received from supporting churches and individuals in order to serve the ever-growing number of guests affected by economic conditions and reductions in federal programs

The project is supported with grants from the United Church of Christ, United Methodist Churches and others who defray the cost of travel.

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