On Saturday, January 14th, I attended the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Conference. Having only worked for BAG for one week, this was the first event that I have attended and I still had a lot to learn about the organization itself. Luckily, I had the pleasure to be trained on the spot by the knowledgeable intern, Natalie. As the day progressed, I became more comfortable talking about the organization to others. One thing that struck me was how easy it was to tell people about this organization. Once people learned our mission, they saw the intrinsic value in the role and service of this organization. In other words, the mission of this organization sold itself.Gleaning was the word that caught peoples attention most whether it was because they knew the religious reference or because they were interested to know what it meant. In fact Natalie and I both learned that gleaning is not only a Biblical term, but it is also used in the Koran. In the Bible, verses in Exodus (23:10-11) and Deuteronomy (14:28-29; 24:19-21) stress the need for farmers to leave some produce behind for those in need. Leviticus (19:9-10; 23:22) actually mandates leaving the corners of the fields to be gleaned by the poor/stranger. Similarly, in the Koran, emphasis is put on one’s duty to give to charity and not to leave anything to waste (6.141). Additionally, Mary is specifically mentioned as a gleaner in Egypt. (http://humweb.ucsc.edu/gleaningstories/html/charity.html) The historical and religious foundation of gleaning further gives this organization an intrinsic value in society that has been needed throughout all times.
Another inspiring note that Natalie and I learned throughout the day was the increased interest in gleaning. Several people from other areas of Massachusetts as well as Connecticut, New York, and Maine came up to us and were interested in starting or learning about gleaning initiatives in their area. Similarly, many farmers from other states and western Massachusetts told us of their desire for a gleaning operation near them or informed us that they were already delivering the surplus produce to food pantries directly! It appears as though overall the idea of gleaning is becoming increasingly popular. This is also promising for the new Massachusetts gleaning program that is just now being started by the Massachusetts agriculture department.
During the workshops, Natalie and I visited the other tables that were set up. I was most intrigued by the variety of ways that mushrooms were being used and displayed. First I drank coffee that had been brewed with mushrooms. The organization told us that they wanted a convenient way for the American public to receive the health benefits of mushrooms without having to eat them. Since coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the United States they decided that this was a perfect venue for slipping mushrooms into every day diet. I tasted a sample and while it had a hint of mushroom, I’m not sure I would have noticed it had I not known about the mushrooms initially. However coffee was not the only drink I consumed that had been infused with mushrooms. Natalie and I were also offered mushroom tea which turned out to be surprisingly mild and tasty. Even our lunch was filled with mushrooms. Well not mushrooms in our food but in our conversation. We ended up eating with a man from Maine who was giving a workshop on mushrooms. We had a very pleasant conversation about picking wild mushrooms and I even got his card to pass on to one of my professor’s at Colby.
Overall I had a great time representing BAG at the NOFA Conference. Even though I have only been interning with BAG a couple of weeks now, I have enjoyed my work so far and meeting the people who work with BAG.