40,000 Show Up for Free Food at Colorado Farm

Monday, November 24, 2008
PLATTEVILLE, Colo. — A farm couple got a huge surprise when they opened their fields to anyone who wanted to pick up free vegetables left over after the harvest: 40,000 people showed up.

Joe and Chris Miller's fields were picked so clean Saturday that a second day of gleaning, the ancient practice of picking up leftover food in farm fields, was canceled Sunday.

"Overwhelmed is putting it mildly," Chris Miller said. "People obviously need food."

The Millers had expected 5,000 to 10,000 people to show up Saturday to collect free potatoes, carrots, and leeks. Instead, an estimated 11,000 vehicles snaked around cornfields and backed up more than 2 miles. About 30 acres of the 600-acre farm 37 miles north of Denver became a parking lot.

Some people parked their cars along two nearby highways to take to the field with sacks, wagons, and barrels.

"Everybody is so depressed about the economy," said Sandra Justice of Greeley, who works at a technology company. "This was a pure party. Everybody having a a great time getting something for free."

Justice and her mother and son picked 10 bags of vegetables.

The Millers said they opened the farm to the free public harvest for the first time this year after hearing reports that food had been stolen from churches. It was meant as a thank you for customers.

In previous years, the Millers allowed schoolchildren and some church groups to come to the farm during the fall to harvest their own food, said farm operations manager Dave Patterson.

About 600,000 pounds of produce were harvested Saturday, Patterson estimaed.

Weld County sheriff's deputies helped direct traffic, and the Colorado State Patrol issued citations for cars illegally parked on the side of the road.