Berry Plastics is harvesting squash for food banks, pantries

Harvest of Berry Plastics' squash for local food banks and food pantries happens Wednesday in Goshen.

Posted on Sept. 13, 2011 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Sept. 14, 2011 at 7:31 a.m.

GOSHEN — Berry Plastics could use some volunteer manual labor, but it has nothing to do with the plastic bags it produces at its local facility.

Today is harvest day on Berry’s land, where roughly 5 acres of squash was grown to feed hungry people through area food banks and food pantries. “We’ve got plenty of squash to get out,” said Berry’s Carol Marquart, pausing in the middle of the field. “It’s good to see it leave the field and hit the tables.”

It’s the third year in a row — though it’s not a row crop this time — Berry Plastics employees turned the company’s empty industrial land into crops for needy people in the area with the help of other local businesses.

Sweet corn was the food for the first two years, while this year they switched to butternut squash to rotate the crop. “This kind of hard produce is good for us distribution guys,” said Dave Melander of the Food Bank of Northern Indiana.

The squash is a big help, too. “Our numbers are up 15 percent and I know every pantry’s hurting,” said Mary Kneller of Church Community Services. “USDA’s cut by 50 percent, and that’s our free food source. This is huge for us,” she said.

The squash will go to a variety of area groups to help feed people in Elkhart County and the surrounding area.

Employees at the facility on Eisenhower Drive South came up with the idea a few years ago to use Berry’s empty land, from the east side of the factory to the soccer fields off Dierdorff, to produce crops for the hungry.

Kerchers Sunrise Orchards and T&T Fertilizer donated equipment, materials and labor to the project over the years, and this year the Northern Indiana Two-cylinder Club, a group of tractor enthusiasts, cultivated the 7-acre plot for planting.

Volunteers are welcome to show up any time after 8:30 a.m. today to help load and distribute the squash, Marquart said. The field’s in the 1400 block of Eisenhower Drive South.

It’s an idea Berry employees and the food bank and pantries want to see copied by other workers in the area.

Melander said, “We’re just thankful for the whole project.”

Kneller said, “if every business did that, think how much we could do.”

Melander agreed. “If corporations worked together with agriculture, think what we could do. People think of donating money, but you’ve got land, there’s other assets you can use,” he said. “Everyone has different resources available. The more we share, the better we all are.”

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