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Community Week Feature: Forgotten Harvest + Jill Katic

forgotten harvest volunteering

What do 1,600 lbs. of green beans and 260 lbs. of jalapeños mean to you?

To some, it’s produce lining the shelves at a local grocery store. But to Barton Malow Director of Lean Jill Katic, it’s nearly 2,000 lbs. of food she picked and bagged with fellow Barton Malow team members during the 2022 Community Week volunteer event at Forgotten Harvest.

Jill Katic, pictured 5th from the right, with volunteers during Community Week 2022

From Food Rescue to Farming

Since its founding in 1990, Forgotten Harvest has played an important role in metro Detroit’s food rescue landscape. The non-profit, based in Oak Park, Michigan, has a host of programs that tackle food insecurity, from grocery rescue and mobile pantries to summer lunches for K12 students and holiday meal distribution. In a given year, Forgotten Harvest can rescue and distribute up to 42 million pounds of food while clocking 55,000 hours of volunteer time.

Forgotten Harvest Farms was established over two decades later in 2013. It allows the non-profit to grow its own fresh produce to supply families in need with nutritious food that is often unavailable or unaffordable to them. Since its inception, the organization has grown and harvested 2 million pounds of produce.

A New Opportunity

Jill’s history with Forgotten Harvest began long before her time at Barton Malow. She started volunteering there with a previous employer performing a number of tasks, including sorting food and working on the farm. Barton Malow worked with Forgotten Harvest during previous Community Weeks, but it wasn’t until Jill joined the team that the organization started volunteering on the farm.

“Once I learned that people could bring new ideas to Community Week, I asked about doing something at the Forgotten Harvest farm,” Jill recalled. “This [year] will be our third Community Week at the farm.”

Barton Malow’s Impact

Besides harvesting peppers and green beans, Barton Malow volunteers have planted collard greens, prepared the fields for planting, performed general cleanup, and more. One of Katic’s fondest memories was from two summers ago. That year, the planting went quickly — not only because of the large group of volunteers, but because the Forgotten Harvest team brought out a piece of farm machinery to ride along on.

Volunteers planting greens on the back of a tractor

Tractor rides are just one of the perks of volunteering at Forgotten Harvest. For Jill, it goes beyond that. She’s been able to bring a dedicated group of volunteers together each year, many of whom she’s cultivated relationships with because of the time spent together during Community Week.

Throughout the years, Barton Malow’s relationship with Forgotten Harvest has flourished, and the community is feeling the impact.

“The dedication and hard work of Barton Malow’s volunteers have allowed us to reach more families in need and distribute surplus food to those who need it most,” said Forgotten Harvest Farm Volunteer Coordinator Lori Setera. “Together, we are making a meaningful difference in the fight against hunger.”

Jill echoes that sentiment.

“Many hands make for light work,” she said. “When an organization like Barton Malow can release a large number of people out in the community to help, it’s really amazing the kind of impact that we can have.”

About Community Week

In August 2014, Barton Malow marked its 90th anniversary by expanding the role of the Barton Malow Foundation and its presence in the community. One of the new charitable initiatives that stemmed from this was Community Day, a day that allowed team members to donate their service and time as generous and compassionate community members where they work, live, and play. Since then, Community Day has expanded into Community Week, with last year’s week-long event seeing over 3,000 hours of service completed by more than 800 volunteers.