Ken Osgood, at Upswing Farm gleaning chard. Photo credit: Bob Durling
At 55, Ken Osgood of Cambridge has the good fortune to have been retired for a few years, but that doesn’t mean he’s the retiring sort. He’s anything but that.
Three days a week during harvest time you’ll find him—with a water bottle, knee pads, a three-legged ladder, or whatever the job requires—working in fields around Massachusetts. One of those days he gives to the Field of Greens in Lincoln, and two of them he donates to BAG, travelling to farms where there is produce to glean.
Osgood has always spent a lot of time outdoors. As a child growing up in southern New Hampshire, his playground was the swamps and woods on the 30 acres his father bought in the 1960s. Later, through his teen years and college, he worked part-time at an apple orchard.
“I just came to find a lot of satisfaction in being able to track, in that case, fruit through the entire cycle of the year,” he said.
With BAG, Osgood has found that kind of satisfaction again—on multiple fronts.
“My primary interest was in just getting out and being physically active. And I’m interested in food waste issues and things like that,” said Osgood adding, “a lot of my pattern of charitable donations is about groups that help people who are disadvantaged in various ways. Hunger groups have become a significant part of that.”
Having volunteered for BAG for four years, Osgood’s preference is not to work on consecutive days because sometimes the tasks can be draining.
“The morning after some intensive gleaning, I feel older than I am,” he said, recalling one 90-degree day he spent picking chard. “That was intensely difficult.” But Osgood has developed a strategy for those kinds of brutal temperatures: He carries a water bottle together with a cold pack in an insulated bag, and makes sure he takes a swig every few minutes.
However tough the conditions occasionally may be, the camaraderie on gleaning trips helps to smooth out the bumps.
“The people who do this tend not to be boring, one-track type people,” said Osgood, who is a history buff and was delighted to learn from a fellow gleaner the other day all about the history of mead. “I enjoy chatting with people I’m working with while we’re picking.”
Sometimes, because it’s so delightful to be outside, Osgood will work beyond the usual three-hour shift volunteers commit to.
“There was a time last year where I basically picked apples until dark. It was a really nice day in October. It felt nice to be out there,” he said.
And then, there are the gleaning trips that are like no other—the ones that can send you tumbling back through the years to the more carefree time of your childhood. That’s how Osgood described a trip to Dracut to pick collard greens in the snow. Unsurprisingly, he said, there were just two gleaners working that January day.
“There was a space between the road the field that was covered with hard-glazed snow pack, so we were kind of sliding down the hill, bringing our boxes out to the field—laughing a lot in spite of the cold,” he said.
All told, Osgood has been on 140 trips. And like other people talk about their jobs, he talks about BAG—a lot.
“People tend to be very interested,” said Osgood. “They mostly aren’t familiar with this sort of work.”