It’s been a whirlwind first month of learning the ropes as we ramp up for our biggest season yet. Here’s a quick run-through of the most important things I’ve learned so far, it may give you some insight into the nuances of our organization…
- The challenge is in the details. You would not believe how many unique moving parts make up our organization. Each day is like a big game of chess where we have to figure out how to head in every different direction at once, in the fewest number of moves.
- Our volunteers are amazing. Period. I can’t tell you how many times a farmer will pop in to check up on us as we’re gleaning and before I even have a chance to express my gratitude to the farmer, the volunteers steal the words right out of my mouth and eloquently sum up everything I was thinking and more. Our volunteers are out in the field in the blazing heat, the rain, possibly even the snow (for storage gleaning) and they help us with the core of our operation, the gleaning, and they do it all with a smile on their face and a deep understanding of how they are changing the food system. They always try to push the boundaries of our organization, challenging and inspiring us to do better. Could we take even the tiniest of the radishes that don’t make the cut for normal gleaning and find a home for them? Can we harvest the B Grade produce from the next field and bring it to a processor? Our volunteers are creative and passionate and we are so lucky to have them!
- Dylan, our Gleaning Program Manager, can befriend anyone. We will leave him alone with someone he has never met before for mere moments and return only to find that he now knows this person’s entire life story.
- Matt, our Distribution Program Manager, has some sort of magical distribution fairy dust that allows him to move insane quantities of produce in no time flat. We will come in from the field and say ‘Oh hey, by the way Matt, we just filled the entire cooler with [highly perishable] lettuce mix [right before everything is going to shut down for the holiday weekend]’. Yet just a couple hours later (and many phone calls and scribbles on the distribution board later), everything will have a home.
- Quality is better than quantity when it comes to coworkers. There may only be 4.5 of us (although our part-time development assistant, Rebecca, is worth so much more than 0.5), but I have never seen a more invested and hardworking bunch. On any given day Duck may be in any of the New England states presenting at some conference or another while also maintaining the duties of a fully functioning HR department and Executive Director. Our office is seldom empty due to many late nights and early mornings put in by our staff.
- Collaboration is key. Watching people from all different corners of the food system meet, interact and share stories at our annual Strawberry Fete was so hope inspiring. I watched neighboring food pantry managers meet for the first time after working right down the road from each other for years. They discussed their problems and possible solutions at length and it was a moment that made me remember why it is that we all work so hard at improving the food system.
- Imperfect produce does taste better. Maybe its just because more people having lovingly shared in its journey from farm to table, but I swear you can taste a difference.
- The farmers we work with are some of the most compassionate people out there. There are farms where every time we arrive the farmers thank us profusely, which is absolutely crazy because the farmers are the heroes of this story if you ask me! These farmers are so busy, but they almost always make time to chat with our volunteers and show us around. I’ve also had farmers give little speeches about food justice and the importance of our work as gleaners to their staff before leaving them to help me sort and pack produce. These farmers just get it.