There’s a good deal of truth in the saying about a photo being worth a thousand words: If Rob Ann Tomlinson hadn’t been intrigued by a full-page newspaper spread picturing a harvester in a field, she might never have learned about the Boston Area Gleaners. She might have skipped the story all together.
Instead, BAG has become a family affair for the Tomlinsons of Wellesley. Not only did Rob Ann, 72, decide to become a volunteer, she convinced her husband, Brad, (pictured above left) who had recently retired, to give it a try. It didn’t take him long to get hooked—deeply—and now, years later, their daughter, Tess, (pictured above right) has joined the BAG staff.
“I just liked the idea of it,” recalled Rob Ann. “It was pretty. It was outside. We enjoyed it entirely.”
That was all back in 2013, when the operation was a good deal simpler than now.
“I remember that first summer we caught the beginning of corn season,” said Brad, 74. “It was beautiful. Hot and hard work, but we were both healthy and able to do the work. It wasn’t nearly the organized and mechanized-assisted activity that it is today. It was pushing a banana box through the corn row and filling it up.” When the boxes were brimming, volunteers would lug them out of the field themselves, or call to one of the coordinators for help.
Today, Brad said, refrigerated trucks and front-loading buckets for apples make the work more efficient for everyone. But the charm of those early days, he added, lives on in the camaraderie and friendliness volunteers find in the fields.
“It’s still wondrous,” said Rob Ann.
And it’s still hard work. That’s inevitably the nature of farming. But knowing that up front helps volunteers gauge what they’re capable of, and which crops might suit them best.
“While there is a lot of bending, kneeling, squatting, lifting, and walking involved, there is no pressure on volunteers to do more than they can handle. Therefore, there is no reason for a healthy person of any age not to give it a try,” said Brad. “If you have flexibility in your schedule, it’s a wonderful way to fit in volunteer time.”
And BAG makes it easy: When gleaners sign up for a harvesting trip, they have a choice of crops, locations, and weather conditions, Brad noted.
For the Tomlinsons, there’s satisfaction in working with an organization that is striving to keep pace with a critical local need, and providing healthy eating options for people who might not otherwise have them.
“It’s exciting to be part of something that’s growing so much in terms of the pounds of food that is gathered and delivered to the various food pantries,” said Brad.
“It’s not a can of DelMonte’s green beans we’re talking about here,” said Rob Ann. “It’s pretty exciting to be able to produce high-value products.”