|The Gleaners oil painting by Jean Francois Millet|
There are many reasons why a farm may have surplus produce: the cost of harvesting may exceed the amount that the product will sell for, farmers market season may be over, some veggies might not quite be up to market quality but they are still edible, or an exceedingly abundant harvest might mean there is just too much produce to sell. In any of these situations food will be left to rot and composted. At the same time, emergency food pantries are struggling to provide healthy produce to the hungry people that rely on them. Enter gleaners.
The Massachusetts Gleaning Network held it's innagural meeting yesterday in Worcester. The MGN is the brainchild of Scott Soares, the former Commissioner of Agriculture (who recently left MDAR to helm a cranberry industry group). Soares saw the Network as a way to feed people, but also as a way to shine a light on the importance of farming in Massachusetts. In attendance were representatives from emergency food providers, buy local organizations, gleaning groups, MDAR and a smattering of individuals interested in starting their own gleaning operation. I was fortunate enough to be there representing the Southeastern Massachusetts Food Security Network.
The MGN meeting began with a presentation by Theresa Snow of Salvation Farms, who has run a statewide gleaning program in Vermont for quite some time. She brings volunteer groups in to clean farm fields and then trucks harvested produce to food banks across Vermont. Theresa started Salvation Farms using the Community Food Security framework and is now looking to mimic the for-profit food distribution system. Her next step is to work with the department of corrections to produce lightly processed goods (frozen carrots, peas, etc) to extend the pantry shelf life of these locally grown goods.
|Apple gleaning photo courtesy of Boston Area Gleaners|
We next heard from a panel of Massachusetts gleaning programs. Duck Caldwell of Boston Area Gleaners, Jamie Tara O'Gorman of Island Grown Gleaning and Debbie Rubenstein of Rachel's Table all shared stories on how their gleaning programs began and how to successfully run a program. Rachel's Table buses youth groups out to farms, fills the buses with produce (and youth) then distributes it out to pantries. Island Grown and Boston Area Gleaners rely on individual volunteers for their harvests and use e-blasts to rally gleaners to farms whenever there is a harvest. Check out their websites for more information about these organizations.
We next broke out in to groups organized by region to continue connecting the organizational dots. The South Coast group had a lively mix of food pantries, SEMAP, and gleaners, and we talked about ways to combine forces. I was excited to see a flurry of business cards handed around at the end of the session and look forward to seeing what comes out of it.
|Carrot gleaning photo courtesy of Salvation Farms|
If you would like to keep abreast of the Massachusetts Gleaning Network, email Rose Arruda at Rose(dot)Arruda(at)state(dot)ma(dot)us