Tag Archives: CEEDS

Controlled Rot: Growing Mushrooms at MacLeish

27 Apr

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” goes the proverbial phrase used to encourage making the best of what one has. At the MacLeish Field Station we have lots of forest that provides much shade. So why not grow food that does not require full sun—such as mushrooms? In April, eight students spent an afternoon inoculating logs with both blue oyster and shitake mushroom spawn. Their work was part of an agroforestry demonstration project being established this year at the Field Station.

Alexandra Davis ’18 and Lilly Williams ’18 drill logs in preparation for inoculation.

Inoculating logs is relatively simple. Holes drilled into recently cut logs are filled with mushroom spawn and then sealed with cheese wax.

Tracy Rompich ’21 inoculates logs with shitake spawn.

Tess Abbot ’20 and Molly Peek ’18 seal the spawn in the logs with cheese wax.

After being labeled, the logs are all stacked in the shadiest part of the forest. Over the 12 months the fungi will grow and spread throughout the logs, becoming well established, and hopefully begin fruiting mushrooms that we can harvest next summer!

 
Preparing hot chocolate for all the volunteers on the beautiful spring day are,
from left, Lily Williams, Molly Peek, Alexandra Davis, and Diana Umana ’19.

Smith Sugaring

27 Mar

Spring is well and finally here! We’ve been celebrating its arrival with students in New England fashion- by taking a bunch of them to a local sugar shack for a tasty breakfast with the locals- and by taking others out to the MacLeish Field Station to learn how to first identify and then tap maple trees so we can gather their sweet sap. As the days slowly get longer and the daily temperature swings signal that it is time for the trees to send food to their flower and leaf buds, the slow and steady drip of sap has gotten faster and faster, filling the buckets easily each day.

Check out the video about this that our intern Ellen Sulser ’18 made and posted on FaceBook.

On Sunday we capped off the season by hosting our inaugural Smith Sugaring event. We brought to campus all of the sap we had been gathering and set up near Chapin House.

It was a perfect day to hang out and watch the water boil off and share with passers by the wonders of making maple syrup.


Some seniors (environmental concentrators, all) stopped by to check out the parklet that we had set up nearby.

And lots of other people (200 or so by our count) stopped in throughout the day to visit, check out our set-up, learn about the process, and taste some fresh maple sap or syrup. We made our very first MacLeish maple syrup here on campus, and a good time was had by all. Sweet success!

Summer at MacLeish- the Start of a Chapter on Trailblazing, Permeable Pavement, and Barberry Removal

7 Jul

Hello! My name is Laura Krok-Horton (’17) and I am an Architecture major, Landscape Studies minor. This summer I am part of the Smith Summer Research Fellows (SURF) program, and have funding from CEEDS to work at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station with Station Manager Reid Bertone-Johnson. I have been working on a research project to design a parking lot at the entrance of the Field Station, which will be a testing site for the permeability of the materials used.

LauraFrom left to right: Laura, Liz and Reid test out the new camera pole on the proposed parking lot site at the Field Station.

My partner in crime, Liz Nagy, and I started the summer off by cleaning up some of the existing trails and rock walls and creating new trails between the elements of the challenge course. I am a newly trained facilitator for the course, and it has been fun “learning the ropes” this summer.

Hi! My name is Liz Nagy (’18) and I’m pursuing a double major in Environmental Science and Policy and East Asian Literatures and Languages. This summer, with support from CEEDS, I’m working at the MacLeish Field Station as a SURF Fellow, conducting research under the guidance of Reid Bertone-Johnson. My project involves the mapping and mitigation of the invasive plant Japanese barberry, which includes the use of GPS, herbicides, manual labor and a propane torch.

LizLiz (l.) and Laura (r.) all suited up and ready to test some of the proposed invasives mitigation strategies.

Native Pollinators- Life Just Wouldn’t be the Same Without Them

1 Apr

Last week I attended a pollinator conservation short course put on by the Xerces Society in collaboration with the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.  I have always been interested in insects and, being a gardener and amateur naturalist, pay a fair amount of attention to what is or isn’t visiting the flowering plants in my yard. Last spring I was dismayed to note that there were almost no pollinators at my long lilac hedgerow or on my strawberries, so this spring I jumped at the chance to learn more about native pollinators and how I might get involved to support them both at home and at work. Here, briefly, are a few key things I learned at the workshop:

1) One of every three bites of food comes from plants pollinated by insect pollinators, and those pollinator populations are facing massive declines.

2) Studies show that 90% of pollination is done by native bees (as opposed to the imported European honey bees that we keep in hives) and other insects like flies, wasps, butterflies, and moths. In fact, it requires 10,000- 25,000 European honey bees (1-2.5 managed hives) to pollinate as much as 250-750 native female orchard bees!  There are also a number of important food crops that require bumble or other native bees for pollination because European honey bees either can’t release the plants pollen or are not attracted to the blossoms because they don’t produce nectar.  These crops include blueberries,  tomatoes, potatoes,  peppers, and eggplant. Put this all together with European honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder, and it only makes sense that we should all be working to support our native pollinators.

3) Most native pollinators are solitary. Since they have no colony to defend they tend not to act defensively (sting) like honey bees might. They nest in the ground (in well drained soil or abandoned rodent burrows), above ground under lodged grasses or brush piles, or  in cavities (in holes in trees, broken hollow branches or stems).

How crucial these insects are to our food system is made really clear by the actions of the Whole Foods Market store in University Heights, RI. To raise pollinator awareness, store employees removed all produce that comes from plants dependent on insect pollinators. The before and after photos (below) are shocking – as are the statistics. The Whole Foods Market’s produce team pulled from shelves 237 of their 453 products – 52 percent of the normal product mix in the department. Among those removed products were some of the most popular produce items: apples, onions, avocados, carrots, mangos, lemons, limes, honeydew, cantaloupe, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, cucumbers, celery, green onions, cauliflower, leeks, bok choy, kale, broccoli, broccoli rabe, and mustard greens.

Big-wholefoods-bees-releasephotoA produce section with and without pollinated food. More at the Whole Foods website.

So what can we all do to help conserve our native pollinators? Again, here are just a few of the ideas that I gleaned from the workshop:

1) Increase and strengthen native pollinator habitat:
– Take some time this Spring to walk your property and check areas with bare, well drained soil for pollinator activity. Are there small (like the eraser end of a pencil) holes in the ground? If so, you probably have natives bees living there! Celebrate for a minute, and then make a commitment to keeping that piece of land as it is for the pollinators.
– Do you have a brush pile or a weedy hedgerow or an unmown area that you have been feeling guilty about? Feel guilty no more! All of those places are potential pollinator habitat!  Put up a sign (visit the Xerces Society) and talk to your neighbors to let them know that it is an intentional messy space and support and encourage others to do the same.

2) Provide pollinators with food:
– Plant a variety of flowering plants (3+) for each season from early Spring to late Fall. Our native Bumble Bees, for example, start being active in April and stay active into October. When possible, plant native plants, shrubs, and trees. (And don’t forget the grass hosts for butterflies…) They are likely to succeed with fewer inputs (water, fertilizer, time) and will benefit your local insects populations more than introduced species.
– When a crop in your garden finishes producing, plant a cover crop in the now empty space, e.g. buckwheat, that will benefit pollinators and, after it has finished flowering, turn it in to benefit your soil.

2) Reduce pesticide use.
– When you can, buy organic produce.
– Reduce or eliminate home pesticide use altogether. All household grade pesticide are lethal, and even organic pesticides can kill bees! If you have to use something, use products like Bt, kaolin clay barrier, pheromone traps, or insect repellents that employ garlic and citrus oil. Read the instructions carefully and follow them.

3) Get to know what our native pollinators (bees, butterflies, wasps, flies, etc.) look like!
– Teach others to recognize the cool diversity of our insects.
-Join one of the citizen science efforts that supports native pollinators in your area. There are many to choose from.

I am planning to share this information with others on campus too, and hope that we can all work together to plan management strategies for our campus and the MacLeish Field Station that will better support our goals and our native pollinators. In the meantime, you can find more information about native pollinators, plant lists, programs to get involved in, and many more resources on the Xerces Society website. Happy reading!

-Joanne Benkley
Assistant Director, CEEDS

Lecture Report Back: China’s Environmental Challenges

4 Mar

Darrin Magee, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, is an incredibly inspiring individual. Extremely well versed in mathematics, environmental science and policy, and the Chinese language (“because the Japanese class was full!”), Darrin brings an extraordinarily realistic, straightforward, yet very inspiring perspective to one of the most important issues of our time.

Image

As the title of the talk suggests, the most important environmental issues in China have to do with water, waste, and energy. Water contamination is an incredibly important subject because it will not only affect future generations but is impacting current generations. There are widespread, high levels of pollution that affect both surface and groundwater sources. These pollutants stem from sources such as inadequate wastewater treatment, chemical induced weathering, salinization (from over extraction and flood irrigation), and industry. Darrin explained that there are five grades on which water cleanliness is assessed in China: grades 1-3 (one being perfectly clean, pure water) are safe for drinking water, grade 4 is not fit for humans and can only be used industrially, and grade 5 is used for agriculture!!! This causes a wide range of awful and often life-threatening health effects for the consumers of food grown using this highly contaminated water. An example of these effects is cadmium poisoning, which blocks the absorption of calcium into the body, resulting in severe, often life threatening health problems.

Darrin pointed out that China is not actually water poor, the country has the resources to provide for the water needs of their country, but strict pollution regulation is necessary if China hopes to be water-secure in the future. As well as regulation of water pollutants, it is imperative that China adjust its coal usage if major cities are to continue to be habitable: acute respiratory distress is already the principal reason for ER visits in China. One way that China plans to transition away from coal is through hydropower, though these dams can create another set of environmental and geopolitical controversies. There is currently “a race” to build powerful, profitable dams before regulations tighten. As if these issues weren’t enough, energy consumption of the average Chinese citizen is climbing rapidly as standards of living get better. More and more energy will be needed in the coming years to fuel this rapidly modernizing country of 1.3 billion people, and where that energy comes from will affect not only Chinese citizens, but the entire world.

While China’s environmental situation is quite serious and may seem very easy to point fingers at (“If China would lower its emissions and reduce its pollution our world would have a much better chance… it’s not our responsibility here in the U.S., it’s theirs!”), the reality is that in relation to their population, China’s carbon footprint is much smaller than the U.S.’s. The average Chinese citizen has a carbon footprint of 6.2, compared to 17.6 in the United States. China’s population is simply much larger than the U.S., so there will naturally be more fossil fuel emissions as the country develops. Another factor to consider in the international blame game is the origin of the waste in China. Waste and trash is often exported from first world countries to countries like China, because they are willing to accept it in return for payment.  Trash is not the only item we export; much of China’s carbon emissions that contribute directly to climate change are released by factories that 1) export goods to developed countries or 2) are owned by international companies there because of low Chinese production costs. China may be the location in which the highest amount of carbon is being emitted, but at least one reason for those emissions is our consumption.

This is not to say that the China should develop exactly as the United States and Europe did, or that they are not accountable for their country’s environmental impact. On the contrary, China must make the policy decisions necessary to reduce its emissions (particularly coal) for the sake of the planet, and clean up its water and resources for the sake of its people. McGee was quick to point out that unlike the United States, China is in a much better position to enact change because the people and its leaders do not have an issue “believing” in environmental challenges. These are challenges that people live and breathe every single day, and the question is not “what are the challenges?” but “how will they be addressed?” China has ambitious renewable energy goals for 2020, in which renewables will account for 15% of total energy consumption (mostly hydro and nuclear). China also plans to cut their carbon emissions by about 17% in the next year. Given China’s large population and its rapid industrialization, these are substantial goals- but if countries in North America, Western Europe, and Australia do not cut back on their own disproportionate consumption, it will still not be enough.

-Savannah Holden, ’16

New Blogger: Emily Dixon

17 Feb

This past fall I took a semester off and moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga is home to world-class white water, 1-gigabit per second internet, and major industry such as Amazon.com and Volkswagen, which started manufacturing there in 2011.

I worked as an engineering intern at Volkswagen within the Plant Infrastructure department. The Chattanooga plant is the first LEED Platinum certified automotive manufacturing facility in the world. To meet this certification, Volkswagen rehabilitated nearby wetlands, created a 9.5 million watt capacity solar park, and included rainwater reuse in the facility design.*

VW                                 The Volkwagen plant.

During my internship I worked on waste stream optimization projects with the environmental team. The vast and constant generation of waste in manufacturing environments makes organizing and recycling very cumbersome and costly. To help my team get a handle on where possible optimization opportunities would have the least impact on production,  I designed  and developed a waste stream map for the assembly floor that outlined waste generation locations, the type of waste, and the removal method. This map also allowed the waste contractor to design the most efficient pick-up routes for collection.

TDI                                 Trying out the assembly line.

Now that I am back at Smith I am excited to bring this experience back to my peers in the Picker Engineering Program. I am also excited about my new position as a CEEDS intern! This semester I will be helping to coordinate the MacLeish Field Station maple sugaring project. If you are interested in getting involved we would love to have you! Feel free to email me: edixon at smith.edu.

Emily Dixon ’15

Emily Dixon is majoring in engineering with a minor in landscape studies. She is excited to be a new CEEDS intern. During her first semester at Smith she was introduced to the field station through Paul Wetzel’s lab for BIO 155 Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation.

*For more information:
http://www.volkswagengroupamerica.com/facts.html

The Hunt for Fungi

11 Nov

The diversity of fungal species is outstanding. Whether one is considering location, shape, color, touch, smell, or even taste, fungi are the masters of symbiotic interactions. They tap into the resources of both living and dead plants to gain nutrients and energy to feed their prolific underground networks. Fungi are incredibly important in nutrient recycling, as many of them act as decomposers, helping to maintain the richness of the forest habitats that supports a diversity of life.

DSC06290Crepidotus herbarum

This semester I am working with Ellena Baum to create a fungi collection as part of our work for Plant Ecology. We began our hunt for local fungi at the MacLeish Field Station. The location’s segmented land-use history makes it an ideal location to explore both old stand and new growth forest stands, and provides an opportunity to exploring the diversity of what each forest type has to offer. The soil squishing beneath our feet and the moist warmth in the air were  harbingers to success, as these conditions are ideal for the growth of fungal fruiting bodies. Apparently, these were the ideal conditions for tree frogs as well. With every step we took, half a dozen little frogs, no bigger than an inch in length sprung from the leaf litter. We stepped carefully around the forest in awe of their presence. Despite these summer-like conditions, the trees above had already started to drop their canopies, resulting in a dense blanket of leaf litter covering the forest floor that necessitated our dropping down on all fours to be able to carefully move leaf litter aside and scan the ground.

DSC06220Clitocybe Truncicola

It wasn’t long before we started to note an abundance of fungal species everywhere- on the leaf litter, dead logs and even living trees. Some species were hard to spot, as they blended in flawlessly, like the brown and funnel shaped Lentinus detonsus. Others stood out, like the red topped Russula. We also stumbled across fungi with beautiful organic shapes, like Crepidotus herbarum, which we called delicate coral. And even some that looked nothing like the mushroom bodies that we typically associate with fungi, like the black fungus that we called the “dead finger” (scientific name is Xylana polymorpha.)

DSC06327         DSC06239
Xylana polymorpha                                          Russula

Our day concluded with over 5 dozen brown bags each containing a fungal specimen. While field work was done for the day, our analysis was nowhere near finished- now it was time for lab work!  As we headed back up the leaf-covered slope through the forest, I stopped for a moment to consider just how much life exists in the complex and interwoven forest environment, from the giant white pines to the tiny soil microbes. And while my head pondered this thought, my grumbling belly wondered just how many of these specimens we collected were edible!

-Hanna Mogensen ’14

A Foray into Edible Forest Gardens

4 Nov

I have been fascinated by edible forest gardens since I participated in an immersion permaculture course in 2009, the year before I started my first year at Smith. I was exposed to edible forest gardens as a way to conceptualize integrated and cohesive systems of growing food. Forest gardens mimic a structure of a forest to maximize yields for human food production. They allow inter-species interactions across several different vertical layers of growth. Edible forest gardens support a high diversity of species, most of which are perennial. After the initial planning and implementation, the plants maintain the fertility of the soil and reduce the external need for fertilizer supplements. This concept has roots in traditional agricultural methods when people planted mutually beneficial crops side by side to mitigate pests and maximize growth, instead of only relying on technological advances to provide commercial pesticide and fertilizer.

Forest_garden_diagramBasic diagram of a forest garden, illustrated by Graham Burnett*

Corn, beans, and squash, traditionally referred to as the Three Sisters Crops, are examples of mutually beneficial species that have been cultivated together for thousands of years in southwestern U.S., Mexico, and Central America. The three crops hold distinct roles in their inter-species interactions. Beans fix nitrogen in the soil through the nitrogen-fixing bacteria present on their root nodules. Squash plants spread out along the ground and create a distinct microclimate, preventing weed growth and minimizing evaporation. Corn serves as a vertical structure to hold up the beans. The combination of these three species also forms an integral part of a wholesome diet.

corn_beans_squashCorn, beans and squash grown together

As seen with this particular plant combination, edible forest gardens can teach valuable lessons about inter-species relationships and integrated system management. Over the last four years I have worked in different capacities to introduce educational edible forest gardens to Smith College, through STRIDE work and special studies projects. Now, as a CEEDS intern, I am excited to incorporate these integrated systems of growing food into ongoing research at the MacLeish Field Station. This year we are beginning to collaborate with Wellesley College as part of a temperate edible forest garden research network. We will be incorporating underutilized groundcover and perennial plant species into integrated food-producing systems. Be sure to check back to learn more about how we will be working with Wellesley and other collaborators on our edible forest garden research here at Smith!

-Ellena Baum ’14

Ellena is an engineering B.A. major and an environmental science & policy minor and she works as a CEEDS MacLeish Field Station intern. She is happy to be back on campus for her senior year after spending last spring semester studying away at ECOSA design institute in Prescott AZ, where she concentrated on ecological design. Ellena hopes to continue learning and sharing her experiences with others about integrated systems management and food production.

* Illustration from Graham Burnett’s website: http://www.grahamburnett.net/

Fossil Fuel Divestment: Good for Smith, Good for the World?

1 Nov
Last Friday, CEEDS hosted the first in what will be a series of campus community discussions about Fossil Fuel Divestment. The series, inspired by the positive experiences of CEEDS-led faculty learning circles about the Deep Water Horizon disaster and sustainable food, is being planned similarly– with each gathering building on the next, following the threads of shared conversation and questions raised by participants. The goal of this first event was to lay the groundwork for the longer conversation, and since it was students in the Divest Smith College (DSC) org who have proposed that the College divest, it made sense that they should be the ones to help frame the issue. After a welcome by CEEDS Faculty Fellow James Lowenthal, members of DSC gave a 15 minute presentation about some of the the dangers of fossil fuels, the history of divestment and its place at Smith, and why DSC students believe that fossil fuel industry divestment is the right choice for the College. The presentation was followed by 20 minute round table discussions (facilitated by members of DSC) with the approximately 100 attendees.   

IMG_1668Divest Smith College students set the stage…  IMG_1680                          for the community conversation                          

I first heard about divestment from fossil fuels a little under a year ago in my micro economics class, when one of my classmates mentioned the movement in a discussion about economics and the environment. What prompted me to follow up with her afterwards, and eventually become involved in the movement myself, was the incredibly exciting notion that environmental activism is not just about recycling, light bulbs, and sustainable food (though those things are very important!). It is also about the corporate world, it is about assets, and about where we put our money. Fossil fuel companies inflict immeasurable damage on not only the environment, but also on people. This damage is observable in every stage in the life of fossil fuels: through extraction, processing, to the use of coal, oil, and natural gas. These effects are not only felt by the people and the environments of these extraction communities, but by everybody, in every area of the world. It is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the realities of climate change, and it will become more difficult as time goes on.

The Responsible Endowments Coalition defines divestment as “the act of selling all of one’s shares of a given company or type of asset for an explicit political or social reason”. College and university endowments are like savings accounts, and their operating budget is made up in part by the returns on the endowment investments. If Smith College were to divest from fossil fuels, that would mean selling the portion of our endowment that is invested in fossil fuel companies, making a public statement that Smith does not support their activities. Students at Smith began the divestment campaign about a year ago, at the time joining just a handful of schools in the effort. There are currently about 400 campaigns on college campuses around the world (most in the U.S.), and a number of organizations and cities that are also involved. Some of the schools/cities/organizations that have already committed to fossil fuel divestment are:

  • The City of Northampton (MA)
  • Hampshire College
  • The United Church of Christ
  • The City of San Francisco (CA)
  • Green Mountain College
  • The City of Madison (WI)
  • The City of Boulder (CO)
  • Unity College

Some key points about divestment and Smith College:

  • Smith is not new to divestment. The college has previously divested its endowment from Apartheid South Africa, the tobacco industry, and Sudan.
  • In 2010, Smith committed to being carbon neutral by 2030. The plan is called SCAMP (Sustainability and Climate Action Management Plan) and is part of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Greening the college’s endowment through fossil fuel divestment would fit perfectly into this already exisiting campus sustainability commitment.
  • The goal of divesting the College from fossil fuels would not be to financially harm the fossil fuel industry- college endowment investments in the industry are not nearly large enough to financially harm them in the slightest. The goal is to revoke their social license and stigmatize their harmful practices through a financially-minded campaign, much like was done to the tobacco industry 20 years ago.

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As a member of Divest Smith College, I was incredibly pleased with the results of this event. This is not because I believe that as a result of this single event that our new President and the Board of Trustees will necessarily decide to divest, but because it brought attention to the issue here on campus. I have heard more discussion about divestment from individuals not directly involved with the effort than ever before. Students, their family members, faculty and staff are asking questions. They want to know more. It brought attention to not only the issue of fossil fuel divestment, but to the question of sustainability in general. As more students and faculty pay attention to the ramifications of the College’s decisions and actions, the more they will pay attention to their own. This is incredibly important because we don’t really have a choice anymore. For the sake of human health and well being around the world, big changes need to be made. Whether the college decides to divest from fossil fuels or not, this movement as a whole makes a statement : every day, more and more people around the country and around the world are thinking about the impact of their decisions – food, transportation, housing, purchases, and investments – and how they can use the power of these decisions to positively impact the world. Because these positive decisions, to be perfectly honest, are our only chance.

-Savannah Holden, ’16

To learn more: come to a Divest Smith College weekly meeting (email sholden@smith.edu for more info) and check out the links below! 

http://gofossilfree.org/

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/08/campaign-against-fossil-fuel-growing

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2013/07/29/divesting-from-fossil-fuels-means-a-cleaner-safer-and-more-resilient-future/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/opinion/global/the-climate-change-endgame.html

http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2013/05/16/after-bubbles-in-dotcoms-and-housing-heres-the-carbon-bubble/?mod=e2tw&mg=blogs-wsj&url=http%253A%252F%252Fblogs.wsj.com%252Fcorporate-intelligence%252F2013%252F05%252F16%252Fafter-bubbles-in-dotcoms-and-housing-heres-the-carbon-bubble%253Fmod%253De2tw

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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