Mary Sue Ankner
When you live in a densely populated part of the world dotted with malls and office parks, crisscrossed by highways, and jammed with suburban homes, the notion that working farms—a lot of them—could be part of that mix might never occur to you.
For Mary Sue Ankner, an IT expert in the financial services industry who lives in Watertown, that has been one of the biggest delights since she first started volunteering with the Boston Area Gleaners.
“One of the best things I ever discovered was how many farms there are within an hour of my home,” she said. “I had no idea. These little beautiful farms tucked in all over the place. They’re fantastic.”
And it’s not just the number of them that thrills Ankner, it’s the spirit of the people who till their soil.
“I’ve been amazed over the years at the generosity of farmers,” she said. “More and more we have seen somebody plant an extra row for the gleaners. It’s remarkable. They’re going about making their living but they’re thinking of others, too.”
Ankner has been involved with BAG for about eight years, ever since she spotted a woman, a card table, and a simple sign at a sheep sheering festival.
“It was a little painting. It said Boston Area Gleaners. I was a little nervous, actually, walking up because the only thing I could think about the word gleaning was to glean an idea. . . . I was so afraid it was going to be a religious organization.”
But the next thing Ankner knew, she was hooked.
“She explained how they harvest the vegetables, excess crops. They get them to the food pantries and she had me at that,” said Ankner. “I hate seeing things go to waste. I have a tremendous amount of abundance myself and people are hungry.”
Soon, she was contributing as a gleaner herself. It’s the kind of volunteering that suits her spontaneous style—signing up for harvesting trips a few days in advance with no long-term planning required.
“For me, the gleaners are the most perfect thing in the world because I certainly know when I see an email on Wednesday that I’m available on Saturday,” said Ankner. “It’s a lot easier than saying a month from now I’ll give you my Saturday because who knows what might jump into my life between now and a month from now.”
And from the beginning the trips fed her soul.
“I have volunteered with a lot of organizations, with the gleaners I always felt like I contributed, right from the start,” she said. “You come home a little dirty. You come home a little tired, but you know you were put to work and you know it went to good use.”
For Ankner, who is keenly aware of how vulnerable families can be to hard times and how quickly healthy food can become out of reach for them, knowing her volunteer efforts will have an immediate effect is particularly gratifying.
“When I think about who is challenged by their meals, it can be pretty much anybody,” she said. “One health scare, one medical burden on a family could put them in that bucket. . . . One job loss could put the family at having to make decisions between pay the rent or feed the family.”
It’s important, she said, to ensure that families can get access to fresh produce.
“We’ve all got to eat, and it’s going to be better for us if we all eat better,” said Ankner.