By Izzy Gray, Summer Intern
One of my favorite parts of my internship with Boston Area Gleaners has been heading out into the fields to witness the day-to-day operations of the gleaning program. Each time I go gleaning, I am consistently amazed by the energy and dedication of the volunteers. They keep the organization running and, with their help, we were able to harvest 421,167 pounds of fresh veggies in 2016.
Our volunteers come from diverse backgrounds and have various motivations for gleaning. This summer I have had the pleasure of talking with a number of our most dedicated volunteers about why they volunteer with The Gleaners. Across the board, our volunteers clearly enjoy the combination of being outside and doing meaningful work for their community.
Pamela Herndon explained that volunteering “is a beautiful way to get out into nature and interact with food in its natural state. […] With a simple sacrifice of a few hours of free time, a volunteer can bring fresh, nutritious food to those who are hungry.”
Sally Thompson commented on the reward of performing a direct service to people in need: “I was on my hands and knees with other like minded volunteers harvesting food which would be provided to those in need. And I was involved in a process that reduced food waste. The personal reward is immense for me.”
For some, the urge to fight hunger is deeply personal. Jonathan Pilch explained how his experiences growing up inspired him to give back: “I'm only 29 years old right now, so my memories of having to travel to our local food pantry in my hometown of Lynn, MA are still fresh in my memory. We didn't have a ton of money lying around when I was kid, so we were forced to rely on the pantry from time to time. It's because of those who donated to our local food pantry that I get encouraged to help pay it forward.”
Gleaning can also be a great way to bring together friends, families, and co-workers. Brad Tomlinson notes, “Anyone interested in volunteering should understand that it is hard work under sometimes less than ideal combinations of weather and field conditions. While there is a lot of bending, kneeling, squatting, lifting, and walking involved, there is no pressure on volunteers to do more than they can handle; therefore, there is no reason for a healthy person of any age not to give it a try! Volunteers should know that their safety and condition are important to the gleaning coordinators.”
Last year we had 310 volunteers. Boston Area Gleaners depends on these passionate and dedicated individuals to grow and expand its networks of farms and recipient agencies. Next time you find yourself with some free time on your hands, grab a friend (or two!) and head out into the fields to enjoy a few hours outside while making a positive impact on your community.
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!
My name is Izzy Gray and I am excited to be interning with Boston Area Gleaners this summer. I am a huge fan of BAG’s work and can’t wait for the gleaning season to take off!
A little about me- I was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts and graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 2016. I just finished my first year at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine where I study Environmental Studies, Government, and Sociology. I am interested in learning more about food systems and the intersection of socioeconomic status and health.
My family has always valued healthy, local food and has been part of a CSA at Lindentree Farm for over a decade. Some of my fondest memories from growing up include picking berries and peas with my mom and playing around the fields at Lindentree. I became interested in issues of food waste and food insecurity in high school through my involvement with the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and my school’s Environmental Action Club. I love the Boston area and feel strongly about helping to make it a healthier and more equitable community. I am thrilled to be involved with BAG’s efforts to reduce food waste and make local produce more accessible to all families in the Boston Area.
This summer I am going to be working on a project interviewing farmers, volunteers, distribution organization managers, and recipients of produce about how they benefit from the gleaning process. I’ll also be helping out with gleaning and distribution, so look out for me on gleaning trips this summer!
Want to learn about gleaning challenges? Our Gleaning Program Manager answers the question: 'How do you decide what to glean and when?'
Hello, All. Gleaning Program Manager Dylan Frazier here.
Gleaning revolves around supply and demand, and the most important factor is time. My general philosophy about gleaning is probably more crude and unsophisticated than you may think. Our goal is to glean as much high quality produce as possible. As long as the quality is good we hustle after it until the truck is full or we run out of daylight. This attitude is a bit old school, but effective. It has earned farmers’ respect and has allowed us to grow our organization. Even though we are aggressively gleaning as much as possible, we only capture 5% of the farm level surplus in our eastern MA region each year. In 2016, we gleaned 421,167 pounds (about 12,000 bushels).
I should note that we devote extra resources and time to new farms with high donation potential by working through sub par crops so that we can establish a good relationship with them. Some farmers are better than others and some farmers specialize in certain crops. Not every farm is worth our time, so we are prudent about where we devote extra effort and resources. I believe in complex reciprocity, which means I will do a favor or an act of endearment for a farmer under the belief there is a bigger payoff in the long run. This builds respect, trust and strong working relationships.
The other shoe to drop in this equation is demand. Some crops like potatoes and apples are in high demand and we can move infinite volumes; others like arugula and blue Hubbard squash are in lower demand, which poses bigger distribution challenges. This can be a limiting factor. For example, if I bring back eight continuous truckloads of arugula with no other crops, we would be stuck with most of it and our distribution manager would no doubt kill me. So we try to harvest as much variety as possible, because we can slip in a few cases of arugula on each order of peaches and carrots.
Pantries have grown to rely on our services for a consistent variety of fresh produce. We deliver weekly or bi-weekly to most of our pantries. From experience, we know roughly how much arugula we can collectively move in a week and how much we can move through each channel; this tends to roughly guide for how much we harvest. We have standardized our harvesting practices, using banana boxes which allow for uniform of crop packing and easy palletization. We also know how much a case of potatoes weighs and can thus estimate crop volumes for each harvest (pounds and bushels).
Regarding which crops to harvest, I often make on-the-fly judgments when arriving at the farm. Last season, we ran trips 6-7 days per week, with as many as 4 trips per day. Each day and farm is different and there is no single metric used to determine which crops we will be harvesting. Nutrition or dietary preferences is not something we judge or try to impose on recipients. It is nearly impossible to develop an algorithm for gleaning because there are many factors at play and the context if the situation is very fluid. I didn’t appreciate the complexity and nuance of our decision making process until trying to train a new staff member to make these decisions last season. Ultimately we "read and react" to the situation. Often, all (if not most) of the following criteria factor into the decision process about which crops to harvest:
1. Demand. How popular is this cop? If the crop has marginal appeal, which channels want it and in what volumes?
2. Current inventory. How many of each crop do we have on the truck or in our cooler? Do our recipient agencies have a full inventory, can they take more? Do they want more?
3. Inventory pipeline. How many more tomatoes do I expect to be rolling in over the next week? In our business, when it rains, it pours (i.e. all the tomatoes come at once). Is it hard to find tomatoes right now for donation (shoulder seasons)?
4. Relative quality of each crop. Can I get higher quality at a different farm in the same week? How long will the quality be maintained in the field? Pest pressure, temperature, and crop physiology are at play here. How does this crop compare to our standards and market expectations?
5. Shelf life. What is the shelf-life of this product in cold storage? How fast does it have to move before it spoils? What is the expected delivery date and turnaround time (add three days for pantry level distribution and 5 days for food banks)?
6. Available volume. Can we harvest everything in one trip? Does this require more staff time, volunteers, multiple trips, more trucks, etc. If we return tomorrow or next week which crops can hold, which are more perishable?
7. Wholesale market price. What is the wholesale price for tomatoes this week? How long will this (high or low) price last? This pertains to regional crop forecasts. Regional food banks have the ability to purchase crops especially if prices are low.
8. Harvest rate/efficiency. What are the harvest challenges of this crop (weed pressure, pests, and quality defects can slow harvesting rates). What is the experience level of today’s crew? How fast can today’s volunteer group harvest? How much supervision is needed? Is there an alternative crop we can harvest more efficiently? How much on-site training is needed? How much quality control is needed by staff? (i.e. the cull rate for cherry tomatoes can be very high and the harvest rate can be very slow even though this crop is in high demand. )
9. Weather Forecast. Are we expecting a frost, heat wave, wind, rain? Weather affects not only scheduling, but crop conditions and accessibility in the fields with mud and snow etc.
10. Farmer Relations. How well do I know this farmer? How big is this farm (available volume)? How skilled is this farmer (consistent quality from crop to crop and across the season)?
11. TIME - last but not least! As applied to every other factor above. How long will this opportunity be available? When does the farmer want to plow under the field? Weekly scheduling constraints, budgeting, distribution cycle, etc.
By Charlotte Border, Seasonal Gleaning Coordinator
This year we have had the pleasure of working with Ray Mong at Applefield Farm on a weekly basis. Our regular Monday morning trip to his farm in Stow, MA is quite popular with our volunteers; many come back time and time again. It's true that there is something special about the combination of the beautiful wooded drive out to Stow, starting your week on an absolutely gorgeous farm, and often getting the chance to meet and talk with Farmer Ray on a personal level.
Ray has been farming for close to thirty years and a quick jaunt around his fields makes this very apparent. His farm predominantly sells their produce to wholesale markets, such as Whole Foods in the Boston area. This means Ray is a master of organization, timing and successional plantings. The wholesale world can be ruthless. It is unpredictable, with both the prices farmers are paid and the amount of produce ordered from them fluctuating greatly. And yet, the farmer is expected to be totally predictable no matter what. They are expected to have each and every crop, at whatever quantity desired by the buyer, for the entirety of its growing season.
Ray seems to orchestrate all of this effortlessly, and it is because of this that our partnership with him is so strong. He plants fast growing crops like lettuce, kale and radishes every week or two, which ensures that he has a constant supply to sell. That means every time he moves from an old planting to a new planting, we are on his heels harvesting whatever is left over before he plows and reseeds the area. Timing is everything on a farm that is this dialed in. Sometimes we have his tractor crew following us, plowing the crop moments after we finish gleaning it.
While it is exceedingly important that we don’t stall the planting cycles at Applefield Farm, Ray is very supportive of our mission here at Boston Area Gleaners and there are times where he will wait to plow something under until after we can make it out with volunteers to harvest the excess. During a recent trip to his farm, I was chatting with Ray and he told me,“It's better for me, having the gleaners come, it's good for my heart and my brain.” He knows how much waste occurs at the farm level and is doing his best to minimize his waste to the greatest extent possible. Ray also donates harvested produce that goes unsold to other hunger relief agencies in the area and donates his would-be compost to two local pig farmers.
Just two years ago, the Mong’s purchased the parcel of land that serves as their main farm site, housing their wash station, coolers & farm stand. Prior to this they had been in a year-to-year verbal lease that prevented them from doing any permanent improvements to the structures on the property. Since they purchased the land, they have installed four sun-tracking solar panels to provide them with up to 70% of their power needs during peak consumption in the winter when they are running all their greenhouses.
Applefield Farm is truly an example of a farm that has both their business model and the bigger picture figured out. Ray is a savvy business man but also cares deeply for the health of his greater community. We are excited to see how our relationship with him develops further. Next time you are in Whole Foods, look for produce from “Applefield Farm” or stop by his farm stand on Rt 117 in Stow, you won’t be disappointed!
Watch a video of a recent potato glean at Applefield Farm by clicking here!
By Charlotte Border, Seasonal Gleaning Coordinator
With cooler nights and fall colors on the way, summer is already beginning to draw to a close. You may not have focused on it directly, but there have been many more sunny days this summer than the average. While this has been great for summer travelers, it has devastated many of our local farmers.
Just days ago, the drought in the Greater Boston area was classified as ‘extreme'--a level up from its previous label of 'severe.' The severity of the drought is due to a number of factors including the mild and low-precipitation winter earlier this year, average summer temperatures 6-10 degrees higher than normal, and a cumulative precipitation 65% below normal over past three months. The drought in our area is very serious and, despite farmers' best efforts, is beginning to take a toll.
Boston Area Gleaners has been able to see the unique effects of the drought on each of our partner farms:
By Charlotte Border, Seasonal Gleaning Coordinator
Welcome back to another exciting season with the Boston Area Gleaners! I know that everyone here at BAG is excited to get out of the office and into the field again, and we hope that you are too. If you haven’t been gleaning with us this season yet, allow me to introduce myself…. I’m Charlotte, the newest BAG team member. I started my position as the seasonal gleaning coordinator at the beginning of June. Before June I was living on the West coast, so the fact that I even found BAG is a happy stroke of luck. I would have never thought to look for a major on-farm gleaning organization out of Boston, but luckily for me, the internet has a way of bringing you things you aren’t looking for! And honestly, the fact that BAG is based out of Boston makes what they do both even more impressive, and important.
It’s been a whirlwind first month of learning the ropes as we ramp up for our biggest season yet. Here’s a quick run-through of the most important things I’ve learned so far, it may give you some insight into the nuances of our organization…
By Rebecca Fennel
As the gleaning season winds down, so does my term as assistant delivery driver. Matt and Dylan are very busy Gleaning Coordinators, so they need some assistance distributing produce. Most Tuesdays in October-December, I left my Development desk to help deliver food to our partner food pantries.
This position, generously funded by the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation as a part of their Healthy Food Fund initiative, will soon be passed on to a new staff member. In the spring we will hire a Delivery and Gleaning Assistant, who will be responsible for making direct-to-pantry deliveries, as well as trips to large farms to help with high-volume gleans. We will also be purchasing a new vehicle (funded by Harvard Pilgrim) so that direct deliveries do not interfere with gleaning trips.
Here's what a typical Tuesday looked like:
As you can see, it was a busy day, but it was so nice to delve into the operations side of our work. I spend most of my time writing about what we do, so it was a wonderful educational experience to be able to actively participate in the provision of healthy food, and to see the faces of our recipients. I also am proud to say that I can now drive a van!
I will be sad to leave the driver's seat, but excited to pass my role onto the next person. Many thanks to the Foundation for making this experience--and the many deliveries I made over the past few months--possible!
By Ellen Rothman, Volunteer Gleaner
A few weeks ago, I joined a group from BAG at Daily Table the country’s first—and so far only—non-profit supermarket. I came away from the visit with Doug Rauch, the market’s visionary founder and president, so inspired that my friends and family suspected I might move to Codman Square.
It was thrilling—a word I rarely use but I was thrilled—to see kale and sweet potatoes gleaned that very week piled high in bins—but not at prices—reminiscent of Trader Joe’s (where Rauch worked for 31 years). In December alone, Daily Table received almost 14,000 pounds of fresh food from BAG.
Membership in Daily Table is free, and anyone can join. Since it opened in Dorchester last June, 5,000 people have done so, 82% of them from low-income neighborhoods.
Looking around at the Stonyfield yogurt, Perdue chicken, hummus from the Sabra Dipping Company, Fresh Express greens—all priced to be within reach of a household relying on SNAP (AKA food stamps)—it was easy to believe that sales have increased 65% since the launch. And that was before we went into the state-of-the-art kitchen, where some of Daily Table’s 32 employees prepare the soups, casseroles, salads, and other healthy, affordable, ready-to-eat meals (and delicious yogurt smoothies) that the Codman Square community told Rauch’s team it needed.
As Daily Table strives to become a model for similar ventures elsewhere in Boston and around the country, it relies on foundations, suppliers and donors of food, and volunteers (357 in number) to operate. If you miss gleaning this winter, Daily Table can use you. There is a volunteer form on the website. Just be sure you come back in the spring so BAG can continue to be a vital part of this innovative venture.
By Rebecca Fennel, Development Assistant
This Saturday, October 24 will be an especially exiting day for us. We're celebrating Food Day--a national day to take action to solve food-related issues. This year, Food Day's theme is "Toward a Greener Diet," which aligns perfectly with BAG's mission to ensure everyone's access to healthy, fresh, and local food.
This year, we're collaborating with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to expand our distributive reach. With the help of MDAR, Saturday's operations will include a different set of recipient agencies from those who normally receive gleaned produce. These organizations include WIC (Women, Infant, & Children) agencies, Mass in Motion offices, and educational programs across eastern MA:
Because it's an incredibly good year for apples, we'll be distributing over 1,200 pounds of crunchy, tasty ones to the above organizations. We're so glad that MDAR is helping us provide awareness about gleaning to hundreds of new individuals and families on Food Day!