In our work as well as in our lives, food is a common thread that connects us all. Here at the Boston Area Gleaners we are obsessed with how food is grown, harvested, cooked & shared. We have the extreme privilege of visiting many different farms and handling many different kinds of produce, from which we draw a great deal of inspiration. We want to chronicle your food knowledge, stories and recipes in your own words, in your own style. Here BAG's Outreach Coordinator, Leah Costlow, shares her own food story.
Before I moved to Massachusetts and started working for BAG, I spent more than a few years living and working on diversified farms in Maine. My longest stint was 3 years on a horse-powered farm in the midcoast town of Wiscasset. I spent the summers managing sheep pasture and growing veggies with the aid of Bill, Perry, and Millie—three tall, brawny, russet-colored Belgian draft horses. Winters were busy, too, with livestock chores, winter markets, and sustainable logging on the farm’s large woodlot. I lived in a tiny cabin heated for the winter by a tiny wood stove, hauling water in 5-gallon buckets from the farmhouse a quarter mile away, and grabbing veggies every day from the farm’s walk-in cooler. I slept on a futon in the cabin’s cozy loft, accessed by a ladder through a hole in the floor. And let me tell you: I slept very well.
With so much to do from dawn to dusk, it was usually a challenge to actually cook for myself and enjoy the fruits of my own labor. Whenever I stumbled across a quick, delicious, nourishing meal, I would file it away in my mental catalogue of easy recipes. Over time this catalogue became (in my mind, at least) a collection I called “The Apprentice Kitchen.” These aren’t recipes so much as an odd assortment of ideas and guidelines for feeding yourself quickly and seasonally, without too much fuss or mental energy required. And who wouldn’t want to cook like that?
As an apprentice, I had full access to what we called “home use” farm produce. Any gleaner would be familiar with this food—it’s the stuff that would otherwise go to waste! In August and September, this often means ripe, ripe, RIPE tomatoes. Cracked, juicy, fat, heavy tomatoes, at the peak of perfection—but too good to survive a trip to market. Here’s what to do for a miracle meal that's good at any time of day:
Drizzle olive into a small or medium cast-iron pan. When the olive oil is hot, add thick slices of ripe heirloom tomato: I’d go with ½ inch or thicker. Your pan should be small enough that you can cover the bottom with tomato. Season the tomatoes with a little salt and pepper, then crack eggs on top of the tomato slices. Keep the heat at a moderate level, so the olive oil and tomato juice bubbles up around the bottom of the egg, but not so high that the eggs cook too fast. If you like your eggs well done, put a lid on top of the pan after a few minutes. Otherwise, take the pan off the heat when the yolks feel springy. Scrape onto some good sourdough bread and season with salt, pepper, and whatever fresh herbs you might have around.
Whether you’re a farm apprentice or a gleaner, this is a meal to satisfy...no matter how tired, hungry, and sore you are.
By Leah Costlow
Simple or complex, innovative or an old standby, we want to know what gleaned dishes you love! Contribute to the upcoming BAG cookbook, and have your recipe featured here on the blog!
Email your recipes to Miss Jeanie at missGLEANie@gmail.com
Since 1988, Fair Foods has been rescuing high quality surplus produce from the landfill and bringing it to communities across the Boston metro area. Each year they distribute as much as 5 million pounds of fruits and veggies that would otherwise end up in a dumpster. Here Leah Costlow, Operations Team Leader, describes the day that BAG staff spent volunteering at a Fair Foods market.
Whenever we bring volunteers out to glean, there’s one question that always gets asked: “Where is this food going to end up?” Harvesting fresh, local produce is just one side of the gleaning equation, and our volunteers are eager to learn about when and where the delicious food we glean will be enjoyed.
But it’s not just volunteers who want to better understand how gleaned produce gets from farm to table. On July 19th, BAG staff got a ground-level view of Fair Foods, one of the many hunger relief agencies in our distribution network. As part of an ongoing effort to get acquainted with our partners, the whole Operations crew spent the afternoon volunteering with Fair Foods at one of their dozens of pop-up farmers market locations. Every day, Fair Foods staff and volunteers bring fresh fruits and veggies to schools, churches, public housing, and senior centers all over Boston. Much like the local produce that BAG rescues, this produce is high quality food that cannot be marketed—whether due to cosmetic imperfections, reduced demand, or an overabundant supply that drives down market prices. Fair Foods receives this food and brings it into communities where affordable food is in short supply. Preventing food waste and bringing food to families all at the same time… Makes sense, right?
Fair Foods’ signature offering is their $2 bag of produce, which BAG staff helped assemble during our afternoon of volunteering. Neighborhood patrons can stop in at a market location and pick up as many pre-packed grocery bags of produce as they need, at the amazing price of $2 a bag! Other deals are available depending on what’s abundant, but the $2 bags are what keep people coming back every week. For this particular market, BAG contributed bunches of Red Russian and Lacinato kale, and helped unload a large truckload of grapes, peaches, cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes at First Church in Dorchester. Tasks were efficiently divided up, and an assembly line of volunteers was able to quickly pack enough grocery bags of produce to fill several long tables. Even in the blazing July heat, shoppers began showing up before the market had opened—a tell-tale sign of how popular these markets are.
All the BAG staff in attendance were impressed by the unique blend of community spirit and no-nonsense efficiency on display. The line between shoppers and volunteers was completely erased, as local people worked assembling grocery bags in return for some additional produce. Not everyone spoke the same language, but some things didn’t need translation—like the crisp, cold sweetness of a grape, which one local volunteer insisted on sharing with BAG staff each time she passed by.
The heat of the day meant that the market slowed down after a couple hours, giving us a chance to chat with Fair Foods staff about the history and singular vision of the organization. At a time when it is all too easy for nonprofits to lose sight of their mission, Fair Foods is laser-focused on doing whatever it takes to make nutritious food available to all who need it. The $2 bag of produce is a simple but ingenious answer to the widespread stigma associated with receiving free food. At Fair Foods, the community is vibrant, the produce is fresh, and the deals can’t be beat. And who can argue with that?
By Leah Costlow
Click here to read more about Fair Foods
This year we've been making an effort to volunteer as a group more frequently. These outings represent an important opportunity for staff bonding and for improving our understanding of the larger food system and what others are doing to address similar problems. Below Operations Assistant Manager, Courtney Mussell, talks about the experience.
A few of our BAG staff members and volunteers recently had the opportunity to spend a day volunteering at one of our partner-agencies, Community Servings.
Community Servings is a non-profit whose mission is to provide “medically tailored meals and nutrition services to homebound individuals and their families coping with critical chronic illnesses.” The organization started out serving 30 people in the city of Boston and have expanded to reach 2,300 people throughout the state. Community Servings is preparing 2,500 meals per day which are then distributed their clients and families. They tailor meals to fit the nutritional needs of over 35 illnesses and provide food to clients of any age.
Located in Jamaica Plain, Community Servings recently renovated and expanded their facility to fit their continuous growth. We were greeted at the front desk and guided back to their volunteer space. There were storage lockers provided for personal belongings and their volunteer coordinator taught us about their history, mission, and kitchen safety protocols. Once we were ready to start working in the kitchen, we were assigned tasks by their executive chefs. Some of us were putting together containers of salads and sides, while others made scratch-made brownies. We later put together bags that would be distributed to families. A typical bag includes 5 entrees, 5 salads, 4 soups, 2 yogurts, 5 desserts, 2 pieces of fruit, and 1 quart of milk. The recipes are designed to fit the specific needs of each person and their health requirements. Additionally each client receives one-on-one nutrition counseling.
Last year, Community Servings received 50,000 pounds of produce from local farms and food rescue organizations, including the Boston Area Gleaners.
By Courtney Mussell
In an era of global media coverage it can feel like you are being constantly bombarded with humanitarian and environmental crises from all sides. The rate at which we intake this type of information can sometimes lead to feelings of discouragement and even hopelessness. In this weeks blog post, summer intern Anneke Craig, reflects on a meeting on hosted by State Rep Denise Garlick that convened leaders in the food systems movement to discuss how we can enact change at a local level and ultimately inform broader global shifts.
-In order to function, our food systems require creativity, attention, and enthusiastic representation on local, state, and national platforms. The state of Massachusetts affirmed this in 2015, establishing a plan that celebrated the opportunities and successes of Massachusetts food systems, but also addressed the challenges and problems those same systems must overcome.
The main problem? 11.9% of our population is food insecure, yet 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten. Through the MA Local Food Action Plan, four major goals were identified for a safe, healthy, and efficient future:
Similar goals are being addressed internationally. The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, and Health is an international organization that works to transform food systems, with the ultimate goal of ensuring “planetary health diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050” (EAT-Lancet, 6).
To achieve this, EAT-Lancet recommends changes in three major areas: waste, diet, and production. We must cut waste in half, adopt flexitarian diets of many fruits and vegetables, and change our food production practices for the sake of our planet’s health and sustainability.
As Boston Area Gleaners’ new summer intern, I had the privilege of attending a talk given by EAT-Lancet Report author Dr. Walter C. Willett alongside our operations manager, Charlotte Border. The event bridged global and local perspectives--with framework from an international commission being hosted by state representative Denise Garlick, and discussed by local food justice groups in Needham and other communities.
Even Dr. Willett acknowledged the power of local action, citing the example of smoking bans that started as small town debates. The talk was followed by group discussions between attendees on five different topics--BAG, of course, discussed food rescue.
Though local to the Boston area, BAG is invested in the goals of EAT-Lancet and the MA Local Food Action Plan because we are invested in the success of our local farmers and health of our community.
In his presentation, Dr. Willett warned us: “in almost everything we are doing, we could do better,” and I realized, nervously, that we have our work cut out for us. Yet, the energetic and upbeat spirit in the room was infectious. BAG, together with representatives from food banks, research teams, schools and local farms, identified two major themes that can lead us to achieve the goals of the EAT-Lancet Commission and the MA Local Food Action Plan: supporting legislative and educational initiatives, and encouraging more collaboration to present a united front for food equity.
When our small discussion groups reconvened, it became clear that each one placed value on the power of legislation and education in food justice. EAT-Lancet agrees: one of its main strategies for achieving a planetary health diet is to “seek international and national commitment to shift toward healthy diets” though policy, sustainability education, and public health initiatives (EAT-Lancet, 21).
Legislative changes could be brought about by strengthening existing policy and passing new ones. In our group alone, we suggested more committed enforcement of state waste bans for businesses, promotion of good samaritan policies that protect food donors, and creation of standardized food labeling laws and school nutrition curricula. Keeping the lived experiences of those who are affected by legislative and educational actions in mind, supporters--like BAG--hope that structural actions will influence a long-term cultural change in our relationship to food.
The MA Local Food Action Plan identifies collaboration as “the key to success--” and given the scale of the problem, this is absolutely true (MA Local Food, 2). In line with EAT-Lancet and the MA Local Food Action Plan, our discussions also prioritized collaboration. Specific proposals included data-sharing between non-profit agencies in order to improve produce transportation and donation logistics, the formation of a Food Rescue Coalition, and recognizing that “food equity” should always have an intersectional definition. Collaborative effort is vital to long-term food equity, because it is impossible to solve such a multifaceted problem with a lone perspective.
The emphasis on collaboration at the talk helped me to understand how I fit into this movement, and this community. Boston Area Gleaners collaborate with many different entities to rescue produce across the state--local farmers, individual volunteers, and partner agencies included--to achieve our mission.
The very space in which we operate is also collaborative. I am drafting this blog post from my desk at the Waltham Field Station, the facility which Boston Area Gleaners call home. Here, eight different non-profit groups, all committed to food justice and environmental advocacy, work alongside each other in the station’s offices, greenhouses, fields, and labs.
Immersed in collaboration which only sharpens our creativity and sense of justice, I can’t help but feel hopeful for the future of our food systems. When one representative stood up to discuss strategies for fighting food waste, a voice shouted from the crowd: “You should look into is the Gleaners!” Charlotte and I turned and smiled: “That’s us!” -
By Anneke Craig
Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food.
Every year Radcliffe hosts a symposium where they honor "ideas at work in the world" and award the Radcliffe Medal to a person going above and beyond to advance the greater good. This year they convened an array of organizations working to improve the food system to honor Dolores Huerta for her food systems activism. BAG was recognized as an innovator in the field and invited to attend. Below, Leah Costlow, an Operations Team Leader, reflects on the day.
-Food is far from scarce these days, as anyone who has volunteered with Boston Area Gleaners can attest. Every year we bring hundreds of volunteers onto dozens of Massachusetts farms, where the abundance of production can be overwhelming.
Our local farmers have perfected their unpredictable craft to the greatest possible extent: year after year, residents of Massachusetts enjoy delicious, locally grown produce ranging from apples and winter squash to fresh ginger and callaloo.
And the realities of farming mean that every year there is a surplus. Sometimes crop conditions are so good that commodity prices plummet, making it difficult for farmers to afford the labor costs to harvest what they’ve grown. Sometimes crop conditions are poor, and crop quality falls short of the aesthetic that consumers have grown accustomed to seeing.
That’s where we come in: BAG exists because farms produce more than they can sell.
But what about hunger? Is hunger inevitable, in the way that surplus seems to be an inevitable part of modern agriculture? I struggled with this question while attending Radcliffe Day, the annual symposium that brings activists, policy experts, and other thinkers to the Radcliffe Institute for a day of conversation.
This year’s event, which took place on May 31st, centered around food and justice: the intrepid labor activist Dolores Huerta received the Radcliffe Medal in recognition of her groundbreaking work on behalf of farmworkers in California and beyond, and panelists for the event included sustainability luminaries Alice Waters and Francis Moore Lappé.
During the forum entitled “Nourishing America,” Waters and Lappé butted heads with experts in health policy and agricultural economics. I found myself siding with the policy wonks: the sustainability movement has not done enough to reach farmworkers, minorities, and the millions living in food insecurity. We’ve gotten very good at growing food, but we could be much better at feeding people.
As one panelist noted, hunger relief, although vitally important, doesn’t address the fundamental causes of hunger and economic inequality in our country. When you look at it this way, then yes, hunger starts to seem sadly inevitable.
Meanwhile, BAG and other food justice organizations set up shop in the so-called Marketplace of Ideas, where everyone in attendance could learn about the innovative ways in which these organizations are tackling issues within our food system. I spoke with many people who were thrilled to learn about what we do at BAG, some of whom had never heard of gleaning before. Almost everyone was shocked to learn that approximately 20% of food goes to waste without ever leaving the farm.
They were also delighted to learn that BAG rescued 820,000 pounds of this surplus in 2018, and is on track to glean 1 million pounds in our fast-approaching 2019 season. Of course, the reality behind these record-breaking numbers is a staggering level both of food waste and of food insecurity. In the face of this reality, I found it tremendously motivating to be deep in conversation with interested, passionate people who were all ears concerning food and justice. It was inspiring to look around me and see the hard work and daring ideas represented by the organizations and professionals in attendance.
The day’s highlight, however, was undoubtedly Dolores Huerta. In a captivating interview, Huerta recounted her work as a founder of the United Farm Workers of America and subsequently as a feminist activist.
At the age of 89, Huerta spoke with an intensity and clarity of purpose that I found contagious.
She recalled her early encounters with farm workers as a young teacher, when she first realized how deeply disenfranchised these people were. Not only did farm workers lack basic workplace protections and bargaining power, they couldn’t even patronize food pantries when crop failures robbed them of income.
How did Huerta ever imagine she could mobilize these people to fight those in power? By remembering, she said, that people have the power. We don’t have to take or win the power, because power resides in every person. And in her experience, empowering the powerless had big results, as the UFW eventually won unprecedented rights for California farm workers—rights that have yet to be established elsewhere in the US.
By the end of her address, Huerta had the crowd on its feet. We were applauding her iconic accomplishments, and chanting her iconic words, "Sí, se puede.”
More than simply applauding Huerta’s amazing past, we were buoyed by her reminder to look forward. Yes, we can build justice into our food system. Yes, we can enact policies to effect greater change. At this moment in time, BAG and our many hunger relief partners are working within a deeply flawed structural framework, in which food waste and hunger are both considered inevitable. But in the spirit of Dolores Huerta, BAG’s mission of bringing food to families recognizes that the people have the power. We don’t have to wait for those policy changes. We can start right now.-
By Leah Costlow
Click here to read more about the event from The Harvard Gazette.
In part three of a series by Tess Tomlinson she discusses the nature of farming and the importance of being able to toggle between delight and loss gracefully, without clinging to either state.
-In many respects, the answers and idols of the questions I’ve been posing are found in the fields in which we work. By definition, farmers must ready themselves to the extent that they can, importing specific and emotional wisdom of many generations, taking relevant precautions using current data, and sourcing advice from neighbors. And, the second part of the definition : farmers must be ready for nothing to go as planned.
I thought of writing to my old boss Kate of Neighborhood Farm, to ask her for examples of this phenomenon but could immediately picture her replying, whilst on her morning cruise through her fields - it happens every day. To watch her move quickly between plant rows, one would imagine her operating with an internal, sophisticated navigation system able to observe, process and translate into action every inch she sees. Perhaps we’ve all seen experts of one kind or another scan their domain and then know exactly how to proceed. That variables descend at random on her land and trickle over in seed packets from Italy make her quickness impressive and crucial. She doesn’t always have a map.
Every year that BAG grows, we enter into the navigation system of another farmer, becoming part of their plans, their surprises, their comfort. No farmer (that’s pretty broad) likes to see whole sections of kale go unharvested but if they have us on speed dial, they may salvage some of the effort and attention before needing to move on to what’s next. Their decisions must be made with clear minds, with minds prepared for and practiced in moving through loss and delight, error and success.
A few days ago, we washed and repacked three pallets of daikon radishes donated by Siena Farms. Then a few days after that, we went back and did it all again. There are something like 700 cases of daikon available to us. Why? Daikon is very good for the soil and some years it must be trendy because some years it sells well. This year wasn’t a daikon year apparently, but the Greater Boston Food Bank will take six pallets and Dylan will spend time trying to find other takers.
Even closer to home than the farmers whom we rely upon, our managers are privy to the winds of fate (sorry) and bounds of time and market, and need to be both informed and open, critical, cautious and joyfully free to say yes and go from there. For them too, decisions must be made with minds prepared for and practiced in moving gracefully through loss and delight.
If we can make it to a place of balanced skill and ease within a context of consorting one on one with circumstance and internal stimuli, can we do it in stride with others who are working with their own versions of balance?-
By Tess Tomlinson
Tess Tomlinson is an experienced yoga practitioner & teacher, has managed restaurant staff, planned weddings, worked for a band on a nationwide tour and completed a month long silent meditation retreat. She dropped into our Operations Team seamlessly during the busiest part of the season in 2017. Her words are a testimony to her unique ability to maintain objectivity and process experiences on a deep level.
-How can we balance being beginners with retaining wisdom and gaining expertise? For as enriching as it can be to approach life with a beginner’s mind, there are times in which we must act while in possession of references. The endless beginner can start to grate on fellow team members if always deflecting decision making upon others. She can reliably fall all alone if engaging life without some recall of skill.
As with in a yoga or driving trucks, we must transport what we have learned in order to meet or match situations with inquiring, spacious minds, rather than empty-seeming minds actually filled with doubt. It is one thing to approach each new situation with a clogged sense that we don’t have the right information or the bits we know don’t add up, or to go about life willfully avoiding retaining information so as to aggressively stay a beginner. And it is a whole other thing to clunkily carry out ahead of us all that we know, effectively blocking new information from entering. Where is the middle line? And does that line look and feel different when working alone or within a group?
I wonder sometimes what our volunteers feel when they are asked to effectively drop into our way of thinking, contravening perhaps their instinct for what is the right move at the moment. As a ladder trip leader, I can rely on at least one joyful tree climber to completely follow his own path, up into trees with tiny top branches, cradled by wobbly corners. In any environment in which we relate with others, there will be some sense of ‘self-sacrifice’ as we lay our own agendas down before us and they are ignored or misheard or noted and forgotten. Some of us will be accustomed to this feeling and for others of us it will feel unfamiliar and perhaps lead to a grievance.
So maybe the question is, how can our concept of ourselves and a confidence in our own judgement be steady enough to keep us and others from harm but open enough to allow in the unfolding wisdom of each new minute?-
By Tess Tomlinson
Tess Tomlinson, who's entering her third season with BAG, reflects on why she's drawn to the work.
-On one of my first truck trips to Appleton farm in Ipswich, MA, after loading from their wash station dock behind their beautiful barn on their beautiful, preserved land, I steered us - Patsy the truck, Leah our OPS leader, and the twenty or so banana boxed vegetables - back towards 128. As I slowed the truck nearing the first of a few crowded intersections, a small bird smacked into the windshield and as the momentum of the truck slowed, it simply sank into the wiper shelf and I did nothing productive and logical Leah said, just turn on the wipers.
I can recall that intersection clearly and shudder each time I pass through it now and so when I thought, I’ll write about the intersection, in gleaning, of all my interests, unfortunately for sensitive readers, this was the story that came to mind.
I do think reactivity is the logical point to glean from this story and the one that does in fact tie what our team and volunteers do when driving, planning, harvesting, deciding not to harvest, sorting, etc, to yoga, wedding planning, restaurant managing, etc.
In all that I’ve found interesting over the years has been a need for efficient decisions, trust, and micro adjustments to the mind and body in order to cope with and surpass blockages, bangs and fatigue. And those are just the adjustments needed to be cool in the midst of turmoil; there is tempering needed too when faced with elation and the desire to hold onto good feelings forever.
Impressive are those who led me on my first gleans and who have joined the team since who can look at a situation and decide what’s optimal in that moment for all involved. It is a huge challenge and we don’t always get it right because we are humans, which is why good-natured, friendly, eager, volunteers play such a crucial role.
I skimmed recent blog posts and recalled faces from summer corn and fall apples and winter apples, and feel so grateful that as we the staff are called on to react, we are surrounded in many cases by hyper-intelligent, loyal, brave and all around brightly lit others who embolden and challenge us, always with kindness.
That’s the true intersection of gleaning with any other interest I’ve ever had - where kindness allows for an atmosphere in which I’m comfortable constantly learning and circumstance makes a beginner of me at every moment.-
By Tess Tomlinson
Helen Palmer sporting a solar powered hat to keep her cool in the summer heat.
Helen Palmer remembers when she first heard about BAG—it was at a fair in Cambridge on green activism—and the moment itself is crystal clear.
“I signed up at once,” she said. “In a way, you don’t need to be convinced. It’s just such a no-brainer. If you think about it, it’s very simply forging a link in the chain that’s missing.” It’s filling a need for farmers, who have produce to spare, and for families, who are hungry for it.
Early on, Palmer, who is 72 and a public radio producer, would make harvesting trips with BAG founder Oakes Plimpton in the days when the organization was still getting grounded. Some of the expeditions were memorable.
“I recall going out in the snow to glean potatoes only to discover they were frozen in the ground,” said Palmer. Nowadays, things are a little more organized. And from the beginning, said Palmer, some really dedicated farmers were part of the initiative, even though there was no way for them to write their BAG contributions off their taxes, and they had to put up with strangers, many of whom knew little about farming, out their fields.
“I think the teamwork is absolutely awesome,” said Palmer. “I think the farmers are heroes. And I think the staff are amazing in terms of the amount of work they do.”
Not only does BAG attract hard workers, said Palmer, all of them are personable.
“The amazing thing is I’ve never met anyone at the gleaners that isn’t nice,” she said. “When it comes to the staff, they have such a great work ethic…I’m awed by them.”
And for Palmer, whose professional life requires her to spend a good deal of time behind a computer, thinking, the chance to dig in the dirt for three or six hours a week is a good antidote.
“It’s a perfect recreation for me,” she said. And inspirational, too. Though Palmer, who lives in Cambridge, has a garden and works conscientiously at it, she says she’s not terribly efficient. So, when she goes out to a farm and sees what’s possible, it’s exhilarating.
“People who know what they’re doing can produce these amazing crops that are there at the peak of their freshness, and to deliver to people who otherwise wouldn’t get it—it’s just so perfect,” said Palmer.
Sally Thompson, Devoted Volunteer (in light blue shirt, above)
For Sally Thompson, the Boston Area Gleaners popped up on her radar at just the right moment. About to retire, the Acton resident, now 66, was looking about for meaningful volunteer opportunities she could pursue when her time became her own.
Thompson’s spouse happened to visit the Wayland Winter Market one day in early 2016 where an enthusiastic BAG representative was handing out brochures and telling passers-by about all the good work the organization does. When the information made it home to Thompson, she knew she had found a new calling.
“I had grown up on a farm and had memories of the fun, the challenges, and the importance of growing crops to feed people,” said Thompson. “I also was retiring from a long career as a physician with an awareness of the importance of healthy food and a healthy environment to reduce the risk of medical illness.”
BAG’s mission spoke to her: Thompson, who is also a volunteer staffer at a food pantry in a neighboring town, was keen on the idea of rescuing surplus crops so they could be used to help those in need. Soon, she was joining gleaning trips, donating money, and volunteering in other ways, too. At the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, for instance, she helped staff a BAG table, and whenever she can, Thompson spreads the word.
“I talk about gleaning when I am in social settings to increase interest and perhaps volunteers,” she said.
And after listening to Thompson, who wouldn’t want to go on a gleaning trip?
“The experience is lovely,” she said, “whether picking apples in an orchard on a beautiful late summer day, picking sweet corn standing in long rows, cutting chard and kale kneeling in a field of greens, or picking tomatoes off their fragrant vines.”
For those who might worry about the work being too hard, don’t fret. “It can be physically challenging, but staff lean in to make the trip fit your ability,” said Thompson. “It is physically rewarding to glean. The physical nature of each trip differs. I see a gleaning trip as an opportunity to be physically active.”
The camaraderie and knowledge-sharing are additional bonuses, added Thompson. “I have met wonderful people while gleaning,” she said. “Retired professors who can speak very knowledgeably about many subjects. Other physicians with whom I can feel connection. Engineers are always fun. Teenagers meeting high school community service requirements provide their insights and energy.”
Gleaning organizations like BAG should be encouraged nationwide, said Thompson. “Knowing that I am participating in a process that reduces food waste between the farmers' fields and those in need is immensely fulfilling,” she said. “As a physician I am aware of the value of fresh vegetables and fruits to good health. In my retirement I feel I can continue my career-long mission to help those in need and improve their health. In fact, I feel I am helping large numbers of people rather than one person at a time.”