On the Farm: Gleaning – The Martha’s Vineyard Times


When I started growing vegetables, I felt like a complete failure. In farms and markets, I saw piles of smooth, straight green beans, unblemished tomatoes, carrots that didn’t wrap around each other. The produce from my own garden was perfectly delicious, but by no means ready to market. How did these farms perform such magic? The key, it turns out, is overproduction. Commercial farms have to plant an excess of what they need, so that they can choose the best for their customers. He leaves behind an abundance of imperfect crops in the field. Traditionally, farmers have gone out of their way to use leftovers, either by giving them away or using them in prepared foods, but ten years ago the Island Grown Initiative found that they could help farmers be more productive. , while increasing access to fresh and local foods. The Island Grown Gleaners were born, and now, every week, throughout the year, a group of dedicated volunteers gather in the fields of the island to harvest foods that are not pretty, but still locally grown and deliciously, making up for a significant part of that. waste and help IGI distribute it to community members in need.

I had the opportunity to join this group of gleaners on a beautiful weekday morning in early fall. Used to ‘island time’ as I am, I thought I was early when I got to the meeting point a few minutes before the 9am start time. Instead, I was just in time to see the rest of the group disappear around a greenhouse, sun hats and gardening gloves in hand, eager to get started. I caught up with the crew as longtime volunteers Jackie Hockhanson and Marjorie Pierce and today’s gleaning captains were giving tips on picking green beans, folding a few to show how we could. say which ones were too far away to be picked. There were specific instructions on which rows we were to pick and where the farm was still harvesting.

For farmers like Simon Athearn of Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, communication and organization are critical to the success of IGI’s Gleaning Program. Allowing strangers to enter your meticulously planned fields requires a good dose of confidence that the plants and soil will remain in good condition and that the team will only take what has been assigned to them. He says this is really where the IGI shines. Simon can check his fields on Monday, leave a message for the IGI Gleaning manager, and be confident the gleaners will arrive Tuesday morning and execute the exact plan he had in mind.

They look more like trained professionals than a random assortment of volunteers. There are few experiences more humiliating than gathering with this group of seasoned gleaners. As I got up to stretch and rest my back, feeling pretty good in my half-full can of beans, these warm volunteers, most of them a few decades older than me, were squatting in the rows, working hard. , exchanging their full boxes for empty boxes to fill.

After about an hour, Jackie let everyone know that we were done with the official harvest, and the volunteers had a few minutes to pick beans for themselves, while our boxes were consolidated and brought to the distribution van, where the culmination of the gleaning program takes place: getting this food into the stomachs of islanders in need.

That day the beans were intended for elementary schools, where the creative lunch ladies would decide how best to use them in their lunch programs. But depending on the size and type of harvest, the time of year, and the needs of the community, the products gleaned go everywhere from the pantry and senior centers to the Wampanoag Women’s Center on a fairly consistent basis. , and many others as needed. . IGI also processes vegetables and prepares meals for distribution in partnership with local chefs and the Slough Cove Foundation.

According to Kayte Morris, Senior Director of Food Equity Programs for Island Grown Initiative, the goal is to get the right food to the right people at the right time. It takes a lot of coordination and knowing who is growing what and who needs it.

Fortunately, they have their leader, Astrid Tilton, tasked with figuring all this out. Astrid is passionate about food fairness and believes that everyone should be able to obtain food in a convenient and enjoyable way. She has spent years building relationships not only with farmers, but also with Island organizations, and people feel comfortable telling her what they want and what they don’t. . She would much rather find another recipient for a delivery, or feed them to the cattle at Island Grown Farm, than leave a receiving organization feeling stuck with something it can’t use.

With the support of her gleaners and the farmers at Island Grown Farm, Astrid continually improves the system, works on more efficient harvesting methods, and keeps abreast of new products being grown on the island. It’s a constantly evolving program that works because it plays on each other’s strengths and what each has to share. Farmers have the power to be more generous with their generosity, volunteers feel they are receiving a needed service, Islanders in need are given a helping hand, and all of these fun veggies get the appreciation they really deserve.


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