Gleaning: A Chance to Harvest for Others

29 Oct

Last Sunday, I went on my first gleaning trip. I was vaguely familiar with the idea, and knew that gleaning was when produce left over from a harvest or missed in the harvesting process was taken by or given to people who couldn’t otherwise afford to buy it. I knew gleaning is a practice that has its roots in Biblical tradition, but has been practiced by religious and secular groups alike. CEEDS organized the trip in partnership with Rachel’s Table, a local organization that works with volunteers of all ages to visit participating local farms and collect the produce that is imperfect for selling or in overabundance. Rachel’s Table then distributes the produce to food pantries and shelters in the Greater Springfield area.IMG_1643                           Jessica explains how the Gleaning Project works.

So on this Sunday, a van full of Smith students and some CEEDS staff arrived at Old Friends Farm in Amherst, MA. We were joined by  Jessica Harwood, the Rachel’s Table Gleaning Project coordinator, and some students doing their service in anticipation of their Bat and Bar Mitzvah ceremonies.  We drove up the winding road, taking in the art sculptures scattered among the colorful trees, the beehives, and a pen for miniature horses, or perhaps mules. We finally drove out to one large field, where rows and rows of kale grew: dinosaur kale, curly leaf kale, kale with red and purple leaves, and decorative flowering kale. The farm was producing kale faster than it was able to sell it so they were sharing their bounty. It was our job to harvest it. After brief instructions we set to work, and though we started with lots of empty boxes, in no time at all they were all overflowing with big lush kale leaves.

IMG_1632Heading into the kale field with empty boxes.

Once our boxes were full we headed to the barn, where we found tables laden with yellow and red onions. The onions had gotten wet, so were no longer perfect enough for market without more work than was worthwhile for the farmers. Our group set to work, sorting through the piles in search of the firm, unspoiled onions, and we collected quite a lot – imperfect, but perfectly edible and nutritious. We were impressed by the fact that we were asked to leave the onion skins and any bad onions on the table; someone else was coming later in the day to glean the onion skins to make dye!

IMG_1642With one of the many containers we filled with onions.

Once the onions were loaded into the vehicle, we headed off to one of Brookfield Farm’s fields — this one looked like we were going to be gleaning from a plot of dirt! However, it turned out to be a plot that had grown sweet potatoes, most of which had already been machine harvested. We went through the field, bending down and tunneling our fingers in the dirt, finding sweet potatoes the size of our thumbs, some skinny like string beans, and always hoping that the next bend would yield a gem more impressive than the last. No matter the size and shape, roasted or mashed or as part of a stew, these sweet potatoes would be delicious. We gathered bags and bags of them.

IMG_1644Gleaning sweet potatoes.

Rachel’s Table weighs all the produce that is gleaned through this project in order to keep track of how much food they help bring to the community each year. In 2012, with the help of its many volunteers, the organization gathered and distributed approximately 10,300 lbs of produce that would not have been available otherwise. Being a part of this experience was satisfying in so many ways: saving produce that would otherwise go to waste, helping get food to people who need it, and being able to spend a beautiful day outside in the autumn air in community, our many hands making light the work that benefits so many others. I can’t wait until we do this again.

-Sara Kirk
Adminstrative Assistant, CEEDS

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