When local farmers gather, magical things happen. At Foodshed Alliance’s most recent ‘Green Drinks’ networking event on March 15th at Man Skirt Brewing in Hackettstown, Brick Wenzel of America’s Gleaned Seafood (AGS) showed up with a proposition. He had 1,000 pounds of bycatch, which is the unintentionally caught fish brought in during commercial fishing, and asked if Foodshed Alliance would be able to help distribute the fish to hungry people in our community. Of course, we immediately jumped on this opportunity to feed our neighbors and reached out to our network of New Jersey food pantries to see where this gift could have the greatest impact.

Through our own gleaning program, LocalShare, we distributed 200lbs of whole fish to Val at Sparta Community Food Pantry and to Benny’s Bodega in Newton, who processed the entire fish themselves. The remaining 800lbs of whole fish made it to the River of Life Food Pantry in Phillipsburg. Here, volunteers led by Jim Minorics, who has been a local commercial clam fisherman since the 80s, worked together to process it all. Each of the fish were carefully cleaned, fileted, washed several times to remove scales, bagged and labeled to indicate fish type, date, & warn that it may contain bones. Jim and the volunteers turned the 800lbs of whole fish into about 250lbs of nutrient dense protein to be distributed through the River of Life Food Pantry. Thanks to Jim and volunteers like Brian Race, Jason Scaerro, Steve Hatch, Mike, Minda Villenavia, Daisy Taylor of LocalShare, and Stefanie Dowson, the head of the River of Life Pantry, whose hard work made it possible so that nothing was wasted – even the heads and bones were all used to make soup!

America’s Gleaned Seafood’s founder, Brick Wenzel, is a lifelong Jersey Shore resident, longtime NJ commercial fisherman, and NJ Farm Bureau’s Ocean County President and Director. He founded AGS in 2018 with a mission to reduce waste from bycatch by connecting the fishing industry with food banks in order to feed people experiencing food insecurity. There are many regulations that make it difficult for fishermen to participate in gleaning. One of the main goals of AGS is to create a process that cuts through the complications associated with using bycatch to feed people and fill in supply chain gaps, ultimately improving the fishing industry and providing a nutrient dense protein source to food banks. They strive to collect data and educate the public on how seafood gleaning can help solve nutrition-related health issues amongst low-income families. (Learn more about AGS from their website.)

Although we are familiar with gleaning local fruits and veggies through LocalShare, seafood gleaning was a fresh experience for us all. The ability to say “Yes!” to the request to quickly distribute 1,000 pounds of seafood is precisely why we started LocalShare. This is a perfect example of the power of local community that is at the heart of everything that Foodshed Alliance does. We are so grateful to Brick and AGS, Sparta Community Food Pantry, Benny’s Bodega, River of Life Food Pantry and Stefanie, Jim, and all the other volunteers, and Daisy from LocalShare, for helping to make this distribution happen!

River of Life Food Pantry (Phillipsburg, NJ) Clothing Closet/Food Pantry: 9:30 a.m. till noon on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays monthly. River of Life Facebook

Find Benny’s Bodega on Facebook

Find Sparta Community Food Pantry on Facebook

Find America’s Gleaned Seafood on Facebook and Instagram.

LocalShare website.

Find LocalShare on Facebook and Instagram.