Meredith Days, Outreach and Communications Assistant
Thank you to Annie for participating in this series!
For anyone who hasn’t met her yet, Annie serves as the Sales Manager for Boston Food Hub, one of the Gleaners’ newer programs. The Food Hub is a wholesale distributor for local produce, allowing local institutions, retailers, restaurants, nonprofits and other wholesalers to buy high-quality fruits & vegetables from our network of farm partners. Boston Food Hub hopes to address farm sustainability, prevent food waste, and support a resilient local food system from a different angle than the gleaning program of Boston Area Gleaners—helping farmers access new markets and new income, and broadening the reach of their healthy food.
The day that I followed Annie, we started out by checking in with Scotty, one of the farm crew members who works closely with Annie to maintain the inventory of produce coming in from the fields at Stonefield Farm. Scotty and Annie discuss the crop of tomatoes that is being sorted in one of the pack sheds, while Annie multitasks, fielding calls from buyers and going through the cooler to check the produce being stored for the week.
After the early morning check-in with Scotty, Annie and I head over to the farmhouse so she can check the final orders coming in for Friday pickups. We talk about her experience while she types furiously on the computer. Annie started with the Food Hub as the Food Hub Sales Manager in June 2021. Annie loves farms and thinks that strengthening the regional food system is the best hope for a more sustainable future. One of her first experiences with the food system was when she did an internship on a small farm in college for a season, where she figured out that she didn’t want to be a farmer, but wanted to work adjacent to farms and help farmers.
After graduating from college, she worked in a variety of jobs, including at a large salad company for a few years. In her early career, she worked more in the traditional food system, but was always seeking a job that would better align with her personal values. She studied food hubs in a certificate program at Tufts University, and has always been interested in ways to increase farm sustainability and support the local food system. Annie feels like the Gleaners’ Food Hub is a perfect fit because of our mission driven work to support the farms in our community and reduce food waste while also providing fresh produce to folks across Massachusetts.
While we talk, Annie fields calls from suppliers and buyers, including a farmer who delivered a sample of brussels sprouts earlier in the week, and a local burrito joint owner who purchases tomatoes from the Food Hub. She also spends time entering sales orders for customers, placing purchase orders for farmers and checking produce inventory on Salesforce, our inventory system.
At eleven, Annie participates in a call with Vermont Way Foods, to discuss their plan to build up Vermont brands outside of Vermont. As a new program, The Food Hub hopes to learn from other hubs across New England and identify opportunities to support them and their farmers, because one of the goals for the Food Hub is to grow and connect to other hubs across the region, and for the food hubs, to work together to increase access to local food and towards a resilient regional food system. Annie hopes that Boston Food Hub will be able to create a network in the region, making it easy for local wholesale customers to source from local farms.
After lunch, Annie and I head back out to the cooler and pack shed to talk to Scotty about the tomato packing progress, and then Annie calls around to customers to see if anyone who didn’t submit an order wants to buy tomatoes. She also takes stock of what’s unclaimed in the cooler before calling a local grocery store to see if they’re interested in our remaining boxes of kale and lettuce (and a few final tomatoes).
Annie explains that some afternoons are more operations-heavy than this one— she’s often running around checking on inventory and making sure packing is happening on schedule, but on this particular day there’s enough down time that I get another chance to talk to her before the day ends. She tells me that her favorite part about working with the Gleaners is coming to work on a farm every day with awesome people! She also loves the Food Hub for the bigger goals and vision that the program has— she feels motivated and excited to come to work because there’s so much in store as it grows.
Outside of work, Annie is active and just as enthusiastic. She loves cooking, hiking, going for walks with her family, going to the beach, and especially going to farmers markets. Her favorite vegetable is hakurei turnips— she loves their versatility, and the greens are edible too, which means you can use the entire plant. Annie also told me that the food that best represents her is lobster. She likes when she has to work for her food and a lobster is like that— super satisfying to break down, and it forces you to spend time eating and thinking about your food. Her favorite food related reads are Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (one of the first food books she read about home gardening), and anything about Anthony Bourdain.
Even though she’s only worked with the Gleaners for about six months, she already feels like working here has impacted the way she sees the world. She explained that working with the Gleaners has helped her reduce food waste even more - especially within day-to-day cooking, realizing that foods with imperfections are perfectly edible, appreciating all shapes, colors, and sizes of foods, and just by thinking about food waste overall. She has also adopted the “gleaner mentality,” trying to repurpose and redistribute items rather than buying new. Annie said she loves “really getting to interact with the farms we buy from, getting to know them and see their operations and know the story behind the farmers we’re working with” because it makes the work even more meaningful to her.
Normally Annie would stay through 6 or 6:30pm, finishing out orders and making sure everything was set for the end of the week, but on this particular Wednesday, she had to leave at 5 to make it to Boston College, where she was giving a talk in a sustainable agriculture class, discussing local food economies. During the talk she explained her career in the food industry, talked to the students about the Gleaners, the Food Hub, and our place in the local food system, and described local supply chains, food hubs and food waste. She focused in particular on discussing on-farm food waste, where it comes from, and how we’re working to prevent it beyond just gleaning surplus!
Despite her busy days, Annie loves that each day is different, and says that she feels so lucky to be excited to come into work every day. We are so glad to have her here!
Paul Franceschi, Outreach Coordinator
This season, the Gleaners’ apprentice team visited Mill City Grows’ urban farm in the Pawtucketville neighborhood of Lowell—one of their many sites where they grow food with community members—to learn more and collaborate on farm projects.
Mill City Grows (MCG) is a community-based food justice program that works to improve physical health, economic independence and environmental sustainability in Lowell through increased access to land, locally-grown food, and education. They manage three urban farm spaces, eight community gardens, and a network of school gardens (that connect with over 8,000 students and families!).
From their growing practices to their programs at large, Mill City Grows explained that they are dedicated to adaptability and learning, and are deeply community-centered. Outreach Volunteer Operations Manager, Dai, and Farm Manager, Brian, described to the apprentice team that the farm ‘trials’ new practices and crops as much as they focus on production. Dai showed the Gleaners’ apprentices a new plot of sweet sorghum that the farm was testing out this year, in addition to other nutrient-rich grain and seed crops like sesame. Community members bring ideas and guidance to MCG’s work, as they strive to incorporate culturally appropriate crops into their growing. In a broadly multilingual and culturally diverse city, Dai says that Mill City Grows finds community connections through a collective language of food.
During the pandemic, Mill City Grows converted their school gardens into ‘microfarms’ to power grab-and-go food shares for Lowell families. As with their farm practices, MCG started the program as a trial, and grew the model according to what worked, with guidance and feedback from community members. Their urban farm sites also supply food for MCG’s mobile market & community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, which both accept the state and federal nutrition assistance programs SNAP & HIP.
Community buy-in to Mill City Grows’ programs is a central part of their sustainability and philosophy. A key part of food justice is food sovereignty—the right of communities and individuals to participate, hold ownership in, and guide their own food systems. In line with this, residents are able to assist with growing food for MCG's distribution, grow their own food in community gardens, and participate in workshops & education programs related to growing practices.
During our visit, the Gleaners’ crew helped build ‘high tunnels’ and ‘low tunnels’ at the farm. Both structures do the same thing, at different scales—working like a greenhouse to trap heat and extend the growing season into cooler weather for a section of the field (in the case of a high-tunnel) or a single row of crops (for low-tunnels). Mill City Grows has never had as much food planted for winter as they do now, and they plan to continue their food distribution to include winter shares!
We hope you will check out more of Mill City Grows’ work at www.millcitygrows.org! Mill City Grows accepts financial and in-kind donations online to grow their work, and invites local Lowell residents to volunteer in their gardens. You can also follow MCG on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Meredith Days, Outreach and Communications Assistant
Gaining Ground is a 3-acre farm in Concord, Massachusetts that utilizes no-till practices, and is one of the Gleaners’ longtime partners! All of the food grown at Gaining Ground is donated to local hunger relief agencies. They have 18 hunger relief partners that they donate produce to, 15 of which get produce every week. Their growing season is generally from May to early October, but they distribute to some hunger relief partners all winter. Food insecurity increases in Massachusetts in the winter months, so Gaining Ground also spends time thinking about how they can serve their partners by growing storage crops. Examples of storage crops include squash, root vegetables like carrots, and onions - crops that last in storage! Gaining Ground is also interesting in that they do maple sugaring in the winter, driving around Concord to tap over 50 different trees. With all of the produce going to food pantries, Gaining Ground experiences consistent demand. This gives their crew the flexibility to harvest entire fields and plant cover crops when it is most advantageous to them.
The land where Gaining Ground is located is the traditional homeland of the Nipmuc and Algonquin Nations. The land was farmed for about 100 years for rhubarb and asparagus. Gaining Ground has been there for a little over 20 years.
At Gaining Ground, the farm runs on volunteer labor. This year alone, there have been over 1800 volunteers out to help the farmers with their harvest. In years past, the number of volunteers has been over 2500! The volunteer program connects people to the land and helps expose them to food access issues. This year is the first year Gaining Ground has had a farm Education Manager, Erin, who was nice enough to show us around and answer our many questions when we visited! In the last year, the organization has tried to push for the volunteer program to be mission oriented and educational as a way to engage people beyond volunteering.
We also learned a lot about soil preservation from Erin, and the importance of thinking about the soil content. We got to see one of their high-tunnel greenhouses full of carrots with no weeds at all - Erin told us that “when you build microbes in the soil through no till practices it’s much harder for weeds to grow” which was incredible to see. No-till practices take a long time to show their impact though, so the work is a long term investment into the land for the future. The benefit of no-till means not having to feed the soil as much with fertilizers, having way less pests, and spending less time weeding in general!
Meredith Days, Outreach and Communications Assistant
Welcome to our new series, where we will be posting a day in the life of different staff members with the Gleaners. Thank you to Kate Morse for being a good sport and letting me follow her for the inaugural post of this series :)
In order to really get the picture of what Kate does all day, I followed her around on a random Wednesday. Kate gets started around 8am each day (unless she has an early route) and hits the ground running. This day I followed her, there were low numbers for a volunteer food box pack, so Kate and I planned to hop on the line at 9am. Until the pack started, Kate helped prepare, and once the volunteers arrived, she was ready to go on the line wherever she was needed.
This is Kate’s third season with BAG—she started out as an Apprentice in 2019, stayed on as an Operations (or ops) Assistant in 2020, and is currently the Food Safety Coordinator! Her experience makes her a reliable member of the team – so when Emily, the day’s trip leader, had a last-minute appointment, Kate stepped in and smoothly continued the pack, helping corral the volunteers and staff to an all-time box pack record of 24 pallets in under 3 hours. For those of you interested in the numbers, each pallet holds 42 boxes, meaning that in about 2 hours and 45 minutes the small but mighty volunteer team moved over 1000 boxes of food!
Her flexibility is a skill and something that she has leaned into in her third season with ops. She does a little bit of everything and helps out where she is needed – doing driving (farm pickups and distribution), harvesting, packing for food hub orders, cleaning and sanitizing, forklifting, helping on grocery box packs (like this day) and just general chores.
During the off season, Kate’s work revolves around planning for the season, including making sure our food safety policy is up to date and our plans for food safety around different crops are in place. During the season (which runs from May to November), she trains all staff and makes sure everyone is up to date on food safety protocols, and does everyday tasks like checking temperatures, sanitizing bins, filling out food safety forms and giving the volunteers food safety talks before trips.
After a well-deserved break for lunch (vegetarian chili and cornbread – yum) we get back to the grind for the afternoon. Kate checks in again with Charlotte (BAG’s Operations Director) to see where she’s needed, and we head out to Siena Farms, a partner in Sudbury that donates produce for us to redistribute.
On the way we discuss her experience with the Gleaners, including her enthusiasm for the work she does. One of the great things about the Gleaners is that every staff member brings personal interests to the work, but we come together around a shared passion for reducing food insecurity and food waste. Kate’s motivation comes from interests in public health and the environment – she studied the behavioral determinants of health in college, specifically learning about the impacts of diet and exercise on chronic illness. After graduating, she was unsure what her dream job would be – she is passionate about reducing health disparities, increasing access to healthcare, increasing access to healthy food, engaging with environmental justice – so she decided she would focus on public health for her career and do environmental justice work on the side. In her search for jobs, however, she found the Gleaners, which she describes as “a perfect mix of her interests,” allowing her to stay engaged with her passions and work outside!
When we discussed her favorite memories of her time at BAG, Kate pondered for a while, saying that she has “a lot of moments after being out in a field when [she] really appreciate[s] not being in a cubicle and having an office job” at a time when a lot of her friends do. She loves that our work is “logical – it uses the problem of food waste to answer the problem of food insecurity, connecting the dots to alleviate both problems.” After a time, she settles on a classic story as her favorite memory with the Gleaners– a day that she spent driving around asking stores for banana boxes with her fellow apprentice Sam during her first season. They drove around all day long, taking over the Instagram story and making the tedious job of asking for banana boxes at grocery stores very fun (you can still watch their journey at @bostonareagleaners on Instagram today under the highlight “Kate + Sam”). Her favorite thing about her role with the Gleaners is a common thread in many of her answers: Kate loves her coworkers and the sense of teamwork in the workplace.
At Siena, Kate discusses the transfer and loads bins of produce ranging from mushrooms to arugula to tomatoes into the back of ‘Bessie,’ one of our box trucks. She handles complications with the grace and poise and patience of someone who has been to this pick-up a hundred times before (and she has). After the truck is full, we hop back in, discussing food-related media and time spent outside of work. Outside of work, Kate enjoys running, hiking, reading and spending time with her friends! She recommends The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, a book she read during her first season with the Gleaners that blew her mind. She also has a sweet tooth: her favorite ice cream flavor is B3 (brown butter, brown sugar and brownies) from Toscanini’s, and her favorite food-related show is Great British Baking Show.
We bring Bessie back to Stonefield Farm, and Kate has to rearrange pallets and some bins to make room for the new produce to be checked, sorted, organized and repacked for distribution. As the day winds down, she moves some stuff around with the forklift and helps with the cooler shuffle — moving produce around for optimal positioning for the next day. At around 6:30 pm, the ops day ends. Kate’s enthusiasm and energy remains despite long days – she wouldn’t want it any other way.
Meredith Days, Outreach and Communications Assistant
For this year’s end of summer playlist, I wanted to try something new— creating a group playlist of the Gleaners’ favorite songs. Since I had never done this before, I was a little nervous that it would clash, but I had to take a chance and hope it would coalesce into something beautiful. After mixing the playlist and including everyone’s recommendations, I think we hit the jackpot— a mashup of songs that capture the collective spirit of the summer for the Gleaners.
Apprentice Ana recommended “Walkin’ on the Sun” by Smash Mouth and “(Love is Like A) Heat Wave” by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, as “hot weather classics,” while multiple Gleaners sent in “Don't Forget Your Neighborhood” by Cola Boyy & The Avalanches, which Ana described as “a warm sentimental jam about being where your feet are with a great disco hook.”
About 10 songs in, “Something Good” by The Derevolutions keeps the energy up – Apprentice Gabby described this tune as “goood vibes,” while Office Manager Laura added “Making Do” by Lake Street Dive, explaining that “with the reality of climate change in the news daily and its effects evident around us, for me Making Do by Lake Street Dive has been a cathartic protest anthem against our ability to act collectively.”
Data Systems Manager Matt recommended “Pressure Drop” by Toots & the Maytals, because “reggae is always one of my favorites to listen to on a hot day, and this is a classic reggae song!” As for me, my favorite song of this summer is “nothing else i could do” by ella jane because it has a great beat and makes me feel like dancing around with my friends in my backyard at dusk.
With lots of hot weather still ahead, we hope you enjoy this summer vibes playlist. Listen in the car, while you glean, or wherever you find yourself seeking solace from the heat – and let us know what your favorite songs of the summer are!
Access the playlist here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2ZFUCyVnTupNAM7Zym6YbB?si=9a59f2ef3b2840d7
By Hannah Symons, Forest Foundation Intern 2021
Move over cauliflower, there’s a new sheriff in town!
Behold the mighty zucchini. That’s right – the zucchini can do everything the cauliflower can do, plus more (and probably better). It’s zucchini season, folks! *insert my roommates’ eye roll* While it is true I am known as The Zucchini Girl, lover of all-things-zuke at school, there is a reason for my crazy love affair.
The zucchini’s ability to shape-shift is unmatched by any other veg. As pasta under your favorite bolognese, soft and moist in a muffin, or deep fried as chips to dip in an aioli – the zucchini refuses restraint. Their mild taste allows them to soak up any flavor thrown their way. Not only are they incredibly versatile, zucchini offers a laundry list of health benefits.
The power of the zuke is no fluke:
Zucchini protects our skin the same way it does its own. Carotenoids, an antioxidant found in zucchini, aid in our skin’s defense against harmful UV rays and pollution. The green, tougher skin on a zucchini is a product of the same antioxidant that works to protect our very own skin.
Pectin, a soluble fiber found in zucchini, supports a healthy heart by lowering bad LDL cholesterol levels.
Zucchini are great at promoting healthy digestion. As someone who is plagued by a disastrously humbling GI tract, zucchini is a staple in my diet. Their high water content coupled with lots of fiber makes our gut happy.
Zucchini is rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin A which supports our immune system. This year of mask-wearing has left our immune systems rusty and out of practice. They need all the help they can get to be in tip-top shape as our world returns to normal.
Here are some(!) of my favorite ways to use zucchini:
Happy cooking! Use up those local summer squashes and tag us in your favorite creations. How else do you use a zucchini?
For anyone who missed our workshop in January, or those looking for a refresher, here are two recipes for freezer jam and quick pickles. Both these techniques are a great, convenient starting point for anyone interested in canning and preserving food. If you're looking to delve deeper into the world of canning, our workshop host Alex recommended "The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving" (which has large-batch canning recipes) and "Food in Jars" by Marisa McClellan (which has smaller-sized recipes). In addition, here's a great starter kit for water-bath canning.
Less-Sugar Strawberry Freezer Jam
Quick Refrigerator Pickles
WEB SOURCE: https://www.thekitchn.com/small-batch-recipe-cucumber-pickles-urban-preserving-with-marisa-mcclellan-173303
This recipe comes from passionate chef and seasoned BAG volunteer, Bob Morse, who shared this dish with us in our November cooking workshop. The recipe combines elements of two dishes from famed Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi into a rich and satisfying plant-based meal.
The dish presents oven-roasted squash and onions served over lentils bursting with flavor from lemon and fresh herbs. It's topped with pistachios and a garlic and lemon tahini drizzle, then dusted with fresh herbs. It can be served as a main course and makes a nice dinner when served with a salad, or also works as a side dish. It is both vegan and gluten-free.
Servings: 2 - 4 (as a main course)
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and place over high heat. Add 1 clove of crushed garlic to 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice and set aside to rest.
2. Place the squash and onions in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil, the sage, 3⁄4 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Mix well, then spread out on a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast until cooked and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
3. Once the squash is in the oven, add the lentils to the boiling water, decrease the heat to medium and simmer until cooked, 15 - 20 minutes. Drain, set aside to cool slightly, then place in a large bowl. Stir in 1 clove of crushed garlic, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons parsley, 2 tablespoons mint, 2 tablespoons oregano, 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Taste and add up to 1 more tablespoon lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
3. While the lentils are cooking, make the tahini drizzle. Add 2 tablespoons water to tahini and mix until combined. Add garlic/lemon juice mixture and continue mixing. Add more water as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time and mix to get the mixture to the consistency of honey.
4. To serve, spread lentils on a platter. Top with roasted squash and onions. Sprinkle with pistachios, drizzle with half of tahini, then sprinkle with some of the remaining fresh herbs. Serve with the rest of the tahini and fresh herbs so that people can add more as desired.
By Richard Lin
As typical of pandemic times, I have had a largely atypical experience during my internship at BAG. If I told myself a year ago that I would be working at the Gleaners, my past self would have expected a ten-week summer internship, with fields and crops and an office. In reality, I have experienced almost none of those things. The office is instead my home; “ten weeks” have lasted well into October; and for me, food isn’t found in banana boxes and gleaning trips, but in numbers and spreadsheets.
In almost all ways then, I have departed from my known and my comfortable, and I have so many thoughts and so much to say about my experiences navigating the unusual. But I don’t have unlimited space, and so for now, I am glossing over the difficulties of home-office life (after all, I am sure many of us have lived through it first hand), or the struggles I have had navigating thesis writing and my project at BAG (it’s my first time working on one, and also two, long-term sustained self-lead projects). In the short space I have then, I want to talk about something that is at the heart of my work here at BAG. Something dreary and beautiful, noisy and elegant: data.
In our modern, technologically ingrained lives, data is monolithic. It is the engine behind everything from county funding decisions to the incredibly accurate targeted ads you see on Google. Yet, in its ubiquity, it becomes mundane. We are so deeply situated in data, so surrounded by its effects, that we easily forget about the massive efforts required to make it useful—and, when it does become useful, the truly remarkable and versatile things that it can do.
Of course, I may be speaking too broadly, and you may in fact be in constant appreciation and awe of data. But personally, when I started my data project at BAG, I ran into some fundamental difficulties. For context, the task at hand was essentially to address the following question:
“How can we use data from the distribution records that we and partner agencies have to better the food system?”
And all of a sudden, data wasn’t something that directly served me. It wasn’t something that built and supported the structures that surrounded my life. It was, instead, a giant heap of numbers and letters that had no structure to it. And so, I ran into my first realization, and the big problem.
Data doesn’t do anything. Someone has to do something to it.
Given any amount of thought, this statement may be incredibly obvious. But generally, when we interface with data, the system around it has already been built. It becomes a real mountain to climb, however, when no previous work has been done. Most raw data won’t scream out any discernable conclusions. You have to go searching for it instead.
So then…where do you start? Well at first, I had this big spreadsheet which listed all the food pantries that the Greater Boston Food Bank serves. So, I just began calling up each pantry, and getting information about their food stocks and their demands. And in talking to the pantry directors, in learning their systems and terminology and procedures, I began to understand what things were important to focus on, and what things could be shelved for another time. Using that, I dove into the distribution data that each partner organization had given me. Of course, each organization’s spreadsheets had different categories and phrasing, so I had to digest each dataset, get clarification from its sources, and make compatible what was initially incompatible. I spent my whole summer doing this—in fact, I am still doing this—and it was through this process that I had my second realization, and with it, a solution to the big problem and a process for my project.
Data is as deep as you let it be. And its uses are what you make of it.
Refraining from making any grand analogies to life here, I really did appreciate this realization. Because unlike the first realization, it’s deceptively NOT obvious. Given a list of hundreds of pantry locations, what do you do with it? Well, you can plot it:
But then what? You could run a density analysis:
And then, at the same time, you can download some publicly accessible census data, run that through a couple of algorithms (which you can borrow or develop yourself), and plot that too:
And then you can compare that to the pantry locations, and see which neighborhoods are potentially being underserved. Or, you could plot the distribution data you received from various organizations, and compare that instead:
And you can show this on maps, like I’ve done above. Or you could do it with charts:
But it all came from data sets that looked like this (blurred because of contact information):
And here is my third, and final, realization.
Data is dreary and beautiful, noisy and elegant. And it is immensely powerful.
If you can sift through the overwhelming amounts of raw information, and piece it all together, you can create something that delivers information easily and informatively. You can discover something that you didn’t know already or confirm something that you had a hunch about. And given all that, you can then do further things—send food, feed mouths. And at the heart of it all, there is data.
When they're not working hard to recover crops from the field, our apprentices are learning as much as they can about gleaning, agriculture, and sustainable food systems. In honor of last week being the first International Day of Awareness of Food Loss & Waste, here are a few reflections penned by some team members regarding on-farm food waste, and the solutions & challenges surrounding it!
Tim Offei-Addo: Food Waste Through the Lens of International Development
My Dad frequently talks about the challenges of farming in Ghana. The torrential rains of the rainy season and the harsh winds of the harmattan. He always spent most time talking about post-harvest losses. The corn that sat in warehouses drying ruined by rodents foraging for food, Tomatoes that didn’t make it to market because of poor transit systems. These ideas framed my perception of food waste. I thought about it and still think about it in an international context where there is so much conversation around enhancing the capitalist machine, via an increase in domestic food processing (i.e. Oranges to Orange Juice).
Since joining Boston Area Gleaners, I’ve begun to frame the conversation around food waste in a completely different way. BAG strives to foster a thriving local farming community through their partnerships with farms and hunger relief efforts. They not only rescue food and decrease food waste; they also bring strengthen the viability of local agriculture as they help farmers with weeding, harvesting and food distribution. The holistic nature of this community model benefits all parties who partake in a “glean” while effectively distributing food.
As I think about my agriculture development interests, specifically those on the African continent, this idea of community has always been central to solutions of post-harvest loss. Finding ways to distribute food and provide labor while diminishing waste in a local area is a practical and necessary goal that may have far greater impact than the construction of a processing factory.
The Linn Benton Food Share Gleaning Program is another example of a gleaning organization that cultivates community while providing nutritious food for families in need and decreasing food waste. Through their model, some of the people in need who are able to participate in gleans, go out as volunteers and participate in the harvest and the repacks. These gleaning members are able to take half of their glean home, with the other half being donated to gleaning members who are unable to participate in the glean for whatever reason. It’s an interesting way of sourcing labor, educating people about local agriculture, and cultivating community.
Mauri Trimmer: On-Farm Food Loss
The work of food recovery and hunger relief often feels daunting. The sheer volume of uneaten (wasted) food, as we’ve seen in the “Just Eat It” documentary or and in through the research done by Lisa Johnson and others, brings on feelings of anxiety and frustration which hamper efforts to curb the waste. Modern industrial capitalism is full of wastefulness and generally not much inclined to prevent such waste — unless federal or state-level efforts are made to incentivize efficiency. While food waste and trash are non-synonymous systems, the techniques practiced in Sweden to encourage recycling have always stood out to me. Rather than an incentive based model, rewarding folx for reducing and reusing, they use a pseudo-punitive model: all citizens must take their own trash to the dump and pay a fee dependent on the volume/quantity of garbage. When you stop to think about it, this makes sense: throwing things out which could be reused has an extremely negative effect (greenhouse gases, landfill toxicity, etc.), yet contemporary systems of waste management reallocate the consequences to someone and someplace else. Just the other day on a trip out to Farmer Dave’s we passed a waste treatment facility in Lowell — need I list the reasons why Lowell has this smelly facility, and not Brookline or Chestnut Hill?
Food costs far too much and simultaneously does not cost enough. Researchers working in the field (haha) note the plunging prices of processed foods (value-added?) contrasted with the skyrocketing price of fresh produce. In talking with local farmers, we begin to understand that almost none of those costs are passed down to the farmer. Just how did we end up with a system where fresh snap peas are more expensive than Harvest Snaps, an expeller-produced mixture of rice and green beans, crunchy and perfectly seasoned? From the logics of industrial capital, this makes sense: an economy of scale enables parent company Calbee to purchase and sell at a volume that small-scale pea growers, selling direct-to-consumers, cannot compete with.
A huge part of this has to do with an unequal pattern of subsidization and government aid in the world of agriculture. At BAG we have been discussing how the USDA response to COVID-19 — the Farmers to Families program — worked exceedingly well for fresh produce, yet is now falling apart under pressure from other farm sectors. My ongoing frustration lies with the unequal streams of money flow — we pay enough taxes and grow enough food to end hunger in this country, and perhaps contribute to the hunger-eradication effort elsewhere on the planet. Yet the priorities of those who can spend in government cannot be with big Agribusiness, or with the country’s economy. I’m too frustrated to even write a coherent argument in 500 words. We know the problems and have some solutions — how sexy do we have to make it for the funding to roll in?
Drew Blazewicz: Evaluating Food Waste
Farm-level food loss is a poorly understood area of loss in the agricultural supply chain. Due to a lack of field level studies, most estimates are based on growers reported losses, which tend to be underestimates depending on their definition of marketable or edible losses, as well as the social undesirability of “food loss”. That said, it is an important area to study and collect data on for increasing growing efficiency and the sustainability of our food systems.
For most growers, the primary driver for food loss is the high cost of harvest and decreasing market prices throughout the season. This can lead to high levels of not only edible but marketable food left unharvested as growers deem additional harvests uneconomical. One benefit to a more accurate picture of the marketable food being left behind is the potential for additional harvests if the potential yield can outweigh harvest costs. Additionally, the high rates of unmarketable yet edible food left in the field open the possibility of new markets; selling the aesthetically deficient but perfectly nutritious surplus to food processors who have different standards than fresh produce markets.
Studies which provide more accurate pictures of food surplus could allow farmers to plan for greater yields by incorporating less aesthetically demanding buyers, or connecting with gleaning or other produce recovery organizations which can take advantage of the unharvested surplus without incurring additional costs. By providing more accurate numbers representing higher yields, growers may also be able to market entire fields of produce to retailers pre-harvest. Additionally, performing a more complete harvest by taking even the less desirable but edible produce, could improve efficiency and allow for marketing to alternative buyers. Overall the situations and potential strategies vary greatly by region, farm, and even crop, but all begin with an accurate, measurement based understanding of surplus crops.
At BAG we are in an excellent position to aid in this research and supply accurate numbers for field level loss. We can measure what we harvest during a gleaning trip, taking care, when possible, to separate traditionally marketable produce from unmarketable but edible produce, as well as sampling inedible produce we leave behind. Taking this approach will increase our time spent during field gleans, but has the potential to greatly increase availability of produce in the future. Additionally, BAG works with a variety of farms, which can help in developing a holistic picture of field level loss and dissemination of findings and resources.
Boston Area Gleaners
91 Martin Street
Acton, MA 01720