Picking veggies to feed hungry

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Israel is famous among tourists for its amazing fruits and vegetables, always in season, always fresh and always in abundance.

Now, Israel, which boasts of having the highest per capita consumption of tomatoes in the world, has created an even bigger and better tomato.


Volunteers pick vegetables for Leket Israel, an organization that feeds poor people in soup kitchens and homeless shelters in Israel.
Volunteers pick vegetables for Leket Israel, an organization that feeds poor people in soup kitchens and homeless shelters in Israel.

Meanwhile, an Israeli food bank is inviting tourists who happen to be in Israel during Sukkot to come pick tomatoes for the needy.

“People of all ages, from all over the world, with all the different languages, these people are bonding over picking tomatoes, something they’ve never done before,” said Deena Fiedler, spokesperson at Leket Israel, The National Food Bank.

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Founded in 2003, Leket Israel calls itself a food rescue organization, meaning it gets food that would been thrown away and works to bring it to the tables of Israel’s needy. According to the organization, close to 2 million Israelis live in poverty.

To help alleviate those hunger pangs, Leket Israel gleans Israel’s farmlands, picking roughly 200 tons of produce each week that don’t make it to store shelves for several reasons, including the constantly varying prices farmers can get for their produce.


If the price paid for peppers suddenly dips to a point where it’s not worth it for farmers to pay pickers, often the peppers are allowed to go to waste, Fiedler said.

By utilizing its 45,000 volunteers at 2,000 farms each year as well as its 80 paid employees of which 32 are pickers, the rescued fruits and vegetables are given to 140,000 needy Israelis each week.

“Often times the produce they get from Leket is the only fruit they get. When you are on a limited budget, fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy are last on the [shopping] list,” Fiedler said.

Volunteers range from people helping out for an afternoon to groups, like school classes or companies on a group outing, who commit to regular picking sessions. Also, b’nai mitzvah groups or those on mission trips often show up to help, she said.

“I call us the FedEx of food. It’s all about getting from point A to point B the fastest way,” Fiedler said.

For Sukkot, the organization is holding a picking for the whole family Sunday, Sept. 22 in fields outside of Rehovot in central Israel.

“We’ve been doing this the last couple of holidays” of Sukkot and Passover, Fiedler said. “We do gleaning throughout the year.”

The holiday pickings usually draw from 500 to 1,000 people, she said, adding it’s successful on many levels. Besides the obvious help for the needy, the volunteer pickers feel good about what they are doing, and it becomes a real learning experience for children.

“Kids are fascinated that potatoes come from the ground,” she said.

The food they pick, as well as donations from supermarket chains and dairies, go to almost 190 nonprofits, including soup kitchens, homeless shelters, Holocaust survivor day centers and day care centers.

Some of these pickers may be handling a new “full-sized, full-flavored tomato that is sweeter than most tomatoes on the market,” according to the marketing of the new Maggie tomato, which was created by Gadi Ben Ariel, of the school of agriculture at Hebrew University.

Hazera Genetics, which has developed cherry tomatoes, cluster tomatoes and seedless watermelons, now is boasting of a tomato that is “the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity without genetic modification.”

The tomato, developed through cross breeding, is now sold in supermarkets throughout Israel and carries the label “The Tastiest Gourmet Tomato in Israel.”

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