Before starting my internship, I knew a little bit about gleaning and was excited by its potential to address two huge local issues: food waste and food insecurity. It’s now been five weeks since I started my internship and I’ve had the opportunity to speak with farmers, volunteers, distribution agency managers, and recipients of gleaned produce to gather testimonials about how they benefit from the Gleaners’ work. Talking with such a diverse group of stakeholders has truly confirmed the importance and effectiveness of the gleaning process.
A farmer I spoke to on my first gleaning trip explained to me that participating in gleaning is not just the right thing to do but also a huge help to his farm. If we hadn’t come to harvest the extra rows of lettuce he had set aside for us, the gorgeous greens would have either been left to rot or he would have had to pay someone to pick them. Speaking with this farmer helped me understand that gleaning is both a means to reduce hunger and food waste and a service that that can help local farmers save time and money.
My main focus this summer has been talking to the managers of food pantries and other hunger relief organizations that the Gleaners work with. Many of the managers I’ve talked to have emphasized that gleaned produce helps them ensure that they aren’t just providing calories, but good healthy food. Sharon Patton, the operations manager at the Arlington Food Pantry, explained how gleaned produce helps the pantry offer its clients healthier options: “One thing we have been trying to do as an organization is move away from packaged and processed food towards more fresh and frozen produce. Gleaning is a huge help with that. We are always so excited when the gleaning season starts. It lets us off better, fresher food.”
I’ve also been making an effort to volunteer with the distribution agencies we work with to learn more about these organizations and how fresh produce benefits the populations they serve. At the first pantry I volunteered at, I helped hand out produce to over 60 families and had an opportunity speak directly with many clients of the pantry. One client remarked, “The produce is always what I’m most excited about. You wouldn’t believe the delicacies I make with this stuff!” Another told me that the veggies she picked up would make it a lot easier for her to pack healthy lunches for her kids.
The benefits of gleaning can be identified at each step in the process. Learning more about the Gleaners’ work from such a wide range of perspectives has reaffirmed for me that everyone really does win with gleaning. I’m excited to continue gathering testimonials about the Gleaners’ work as the season takes off. I’m also working on a video project to illustrate the journey of gleaned produce.
I look forward to meeting more of our awesome volunteer base out in the fields this summer. Happy gleaning!