Gleaning for the hungry Food: Louisa Rettew devotes her free time to collecting leftovers from the Towson Farmers Market and delivering them to a food center.

July 19, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Louisa Rettew calls herself the gleaning lady of Towson -- with good reason. But instead of an old-fashioned reaper of fields, she's a modern-day collector of food.

For the past six years, the energetic, 31-year-old has gathered hundreds of cartons of leftover produce at the weekly Towson Farmers Market for delivery to Bea Gaddy's emergency food center on North Collington Avenue in Baltimore.

This summer is no exception. Once again, Rettew -- the only one who practices gleaning at the Towson market -- is a familiar sight among farmers who bring their wares Thursdays to the open-air space on Allegheny Avenue.

"She helps us remember there are people out there who need a helping hand," said Lila Weaver of Hickory Hollow Farm in Finksburg. "In Carroll County, the homeless and hunger problem is not pushed in our faces every day. We forget sometimes."

For the past six years, Weaver and her husband, Dick, have donated vegetables to Rettew for her effort in Towson to feed the hungry.

"She does a fantastic job, what with all the time she spends out here year after year," Dick Weaver said.

Gleaning is an ancient practice, mentioned in the biblical Book of Ruth, which traditionally involves allowing the poor to pick food from the field after the harvest.

Rettew, a county engineer, got the idea for gleaning at the farmers market after her parents -- Thomas and Dorothea Rettew of Phoenix -- became involved in a food cupboard at their church and quickly had to donate an abundance of perishable cantaloupe.

"That got me started thinking, what do the farmers here do with their leftovers?" she said.

After getting the support of the Towson Business Association, which sponsors the market, she wrote the farmers for help. She credits them -- and others -- with making the food drive a continuing success.

"It's not me. It's a team effort," said the easygoing Rettew, referring to those who donate boxes to hold the produce and even a parking spot next to the market. "But, most especially, it's the farmers for putting their blood and sweat into the fields. I'm just the errand boy to run this stuff."

Still, her contribution is a major one, though she downplays her role. Rettew takes personal-leave time each week so she can deliver food to the Collington Avenue shelter, where she is expected through October, when the seasonal market closes.

"She's the most wonderful woman in the world. We look forward to her coming," said Gaddy, a longtime advocate for the hungry and homeless in Baltimore. "We give out the food right away."

One day last week, Rettew, who visits the farmers market during her lunch break and returns after work, found 10 cartons filled with kale, corn, zucchini and squash next to her dark-green Subaru. She also received frozen hot dogs from a nearby office worker.

"For this early in the season, this is quite a lot," said Rettew, as she filled her trunk and car seats with the bulky boxes, joking, "It builds arm muscles."

She estimates she's received almost 700 cartons of food over the years. Her one wish is that others would find time to collect leftovers at other area farmers markets.

"I hope someone reading this will say, 'I can do that.' "

And so do the farmers.

"I think it's really good what she does," said David Hochheimer of Black Rock Orchard in Lineboro, in Carroll County. "Maybe it will get people to do this at other markets."

Pub Date: 7/19/96

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