Gretta Anderson knows better than most the myriad challenges farmers face: She spent years working as one. Now, she’s sharing that deep-rooted expertise with the Boston Area Gleaners as a member of its board of directors.
Anderson, 59 and a resident of Arlington, recalls clearly her reaction when she first learned about BAG back when she was running a community supported agriculture program.
“The first thing I thought was what a clever idea,” said Anderson, “because as a farmer I knew that to be successful I always needed to plant more crops than I could harvest.”
Overproducing is one way farmers can manage the risk of crop failure.
“As my mentor used to say, if you haven’t grown it you can’t sell it,” said Anderson.
“The profit margins are pretty narrow for these small farms, so overplanting by 10 to 25 percent was just a way of increasing the chances that I could stay in business.”
Tight budgets never allowed her to hire agricultural workers to harvest food for which she wasn’t paid, so the idea that BAG would bring a group of laborers into the fields to glean those extra crops for a good cause was an appealing concept, said Anderson.
But then, her next reaction was trepidation.
“I did not invite the gleaners to my fields for a number of years, because as a farmer I was very concerned about having non-farmers in my fields. Volunteers can really do significant damage to a farmer’s crops. They can inadvertently spread disease through high-value crops. They can trample crops. It’s just a little horrifying.”
Those worries were laid to rest when Anderson met BAG’s Matt Crawford and she quickly realized she was dealing with a fellow farmer deeply in tune with her perspective.
“He was very sensitive to my concerns . . . and that really made all the difference,” she said, adding that BAG volunteers are lead by people who are very well trained in how to harvest crops properly. “They are a paid staff and volunteer crew who have excellent leadership and training about being in farm fields.”
That’s good news for farmers who are drawn to BAG’s mission of rescuing surplus crops for people in need.
“I think the gleaners provide a very important service in helping the folks who are food insecure have a healthy diversity of food, including fresh fruits and vegetables” said Anderson. “Most farmers are pretty darn excited about working with the gleaners.”
But harvesting the produce is just one step in ensuring food diversity. Storing it and delivering it are also essential steps, and the staffers at BAG are experts in that arena, too, said Anderson.
“If you want to try and distribute a million pounds—or whatever our goal is—you’re going to have to think bigger…which means cold storage, trucks for distribution, fork lifts,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing the level of expertise on the staff.”
And the same goes for BAG’s board, which Anderson says is filled with smart, thoughtful, committed people.
“For me, in retirement, it’s the perfect fit,” she said. “I wanted a place I could use my experience, knowledge and brain. The gleaners’ board is a very satisfying place to work.”