This page provides answers to common questions that our supporters and volunteers have asked. If you don’t find what you are looking for pleasecontact us!
What is gleaning?
Gleaning is the act of collecting surplus crops from farmers' fields. For hundreds of years, gleaning was an important custom for working people in rural communities, and a key method of improving food security for the poor.
Today, Boston Area Gleaners practices the same method. Since 2004, we have collaborated with farmers and organized groups of volunteers to harvest surplus crops from local fields. We distribute the high-quality, nutritious fruits and vegetables to food banks, pantries, and meal programs across the region.
Why do crops go to waste?
Farming is unpredictable. Weather, pests, and market conditions make growing food an imprecise science, so farmers plant extra to ensure they will have enough produce to sell throughout the year. When crops flourish, farmers might not be able to sell all of the food. Over 30% of the food grown on U.S. farms is never harvested. Many farmers would donate this surplus themselves, but cannot afford the labor to harvest and distribute it.
...And spread the word! It makes a difference every time you tell a friend or colleague about how gleaning supports our community.
CAN COMMUNITY OR CORPORATE GROUPS VOLUNTEER?
Yes! Boston Area Gleaners can host groups during the height of the harvest season. Please review our Group Volunteering page to learn more and submit an interest form for your team.
HOW MUCH FOOD DOES BOSTON AREA GLEANERS DISTRIBUTE EACH YEAR?
Since we began in 2004, the Gleaners have grown significantly—thanks to your support and the partnership of many farmers and community programs. In 2019, for the first time, the Gleaners exceeded one million pounds of produce distributed in a single year. In 2020, with new collaborations for emergency relief, we distributed over 8 million pounds.
where does the food come from & where does it go?
The Gleaners collect fresh produce from over 80 farms in eastern Mass, and the list is growing. If you are a farmer who wants to donate produce, click here to learn more.
We connect this food with over 100 direct distribution agencies--food banks, pantries, and frontline community organizations that serve food-insecure residents directly. With the help of food banks and distribution partners, the Gleaners' produce reaches 2000+ hunger relief organizations in eastern Mass each year. If you work for a community food program that would like to receive produce, pleaseclick here.
HOW DOES COVID-19 AFFECT BOSTON AREA GLEANERS' ACTIVITIES?
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated the vulnerabilities of our current food system. Starting in May of 2020, shifts in large portions of the food industry (restaurants, schools, and other institutions temporarily closing) led to tremendous amounts of waste upstream, highlighting the critical need to build a more adaptive and resilient food network. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has experienced the highest percent increase in residents facing food insecurity of any state in the country, and many local families will continue to feel the economic impacts of this crisis long-term.
Our response to the COVID-19 crisis is ongoing. With the help of our supporters, we mobilized immediately to connect the dots in a broken food system. Together, since the start of the pandemic, we have packed and distributed over 10 million of pounds of fresh food for food-insecure families.
Since December of 2020, Boston Area Gleaners has participated a collaborative grocery box distribution program with Food For Free in order to fill food distribution gaps left after federal pandemic relief programs ended. The Just Eats Grocery Box Program continues to send thousands of pre-packed, family-sized food boxes each week to frontline agencies in Greater Boston, thanks to the efforts of our collective teams, volunteers, and partners.
The Gleaners' volunteer practices have also been reworked with new health precautions to keep our volunteers, staff, and community safe as we pack food and recover surplus crops directly from farms. Please view our COVID-19 Volunteer Protocols to learn more.
FAQ FOR NEW VOLUNTEERS
What does a volunteer SHIFT look like?
Volunteers can work with Boston Area Gleaners on a variety of projects. We may meet up at a partner farm or orchard to harvest fresh crops, or work together at the Gleaners' headquarters in Acton to sort produce or pack food boxes. On every trip, you'll be led by a capable and experienced trip leader who will walk participants through the task at hand, teaching you the skills you need to identify crop quality and use tools safely and effectively.
We do not require prior food or farming experience—only your interest, a willingness to learn, and an ability to do active work to support food security. On each project, we work hard and aim to get as much food as we can picked, packed, and ready to reach families in need.
HOW DO I SIGN UP FOR VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES?
To join us on a trip, you must first create a volunteer account. Then, you'll be able to sign up for any open volunteer project we post online that fits your schedule! We post trips to our website on a rolling basis—typically weekly—as new opportunities come up. If a trip is full, you can add your name to the waitlist. You'll be emailed if a space opens up on the roster.
DO I NEED PRIOR EXPERIENCE TO VOLUNTEER?
We train all volunteers on-site. No experience necessary!
When you arriveat the farm, our staff will provide a brief orientation with helpful guidelines on health & safety as well as how to harvest the crops.
WHERE DO VOLUNTEER SHIFTS TAKE PLACE AND HOW DO I GET THERE?
We host volunteers at farms throughout Eastern Massachusetts, including our headquarters at Stonefield Farm in Acton. Volunteers must drive themselves to the project location. Each trip posting on our site includes location information, so you can decide what works for you before you signing up.We usually try to stay within 1.5 hours of our facility in Acton.
In the past, the Gleaners have coordinated carpools, but we are no longer facilitating this on our end due to COVID precautions. Unvaccinated volunteers not living in the same household are strongly advised against sharing a vehicle.
WHAT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES WILL YOU HAVE NEXT WEEK/MONTH/ETC?
Because farm schedules can be unpredictable and depend on weather & crop readiness, we schedule projects on a short-term, rolling basis, typically weekly. All upcoming shifts are posted to our volunteer portal here. If you have a volunteer account, you will receive an email alert each week when new volunteer opportunities are posted.
In general, we have the most volunteer opportunities during the height of the farming season, from July through November. Work typically includes harvesting, sorting, and packing food, and opportunities are often available on weekdays as well as weekends. In the offseason months, volunteering is typically limited to a couple weekday shifts per week.
Sometimes we may post new opportunities with as little as 24 hours notice. Volunteers can join our Emergency Text List to be notified by text when an urgent, last-minute need for extra help arises.
WHAT DO I WEAR AND BRING WITH ME?
What to Bring, What to Wear, and How to Prepare:
Face Covering: Please bring a lightweight mask with you. As part of our ongoing COVID-19 health precautions, we require that all volunteers wear face coverings while working indoors. Unvaccinated volunteers must wear face coverings at all times while on-site. Face coverings may be required outdoors for vaccinated volunteers as well, depending on the policy at our partner sites.
Shoes: Wear sturdy, closed‐toed shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. No sandals! In the spring and fall when the fields are muddy, rubber boots work well.
Clothing: Long pants are required, and long sleeves are recommended as well for protecting your skin from plant irritants, the sun, and ticks.Dress in layers—the mornings can be chilly, but once the sun comes out it can easily get hot. Clothing that breathes and wicks water is useful. In general, wear comfortable clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty. We are out in all kinds of weather, rain or shine, so come prepared with a raincoat when necessary!
Hats: Wear a hat to keep you warm and to protect you from the sun.
We supply all the gloves & tools: To comply with FDA regulations, volunteers are not allowed to use personal gloves or tools that they have brought from home.
Water: Bring plenty of water, this can’t be emphasized enough! Drink a lot of it (especially when it is hot out!).
Sunscreen: Even on cloudy days it is important to have sun protection. Please apply sunscreen prior to arriving at an outdoor project.
Bugs and Plant Irritants: Please keep in mind that we will be out in nature! Mosquitos, ticks, and poison ivy can all be present on farms. We carry bug spray and poison ivy wash in our First Aid supplies, but preventing exposure with long pants and long sleeve shirts is the best line of defense.
Food: Volunteers are asked to eat before the trip. As a health precaution for the 2022 season, eating on-site is discouraged in order to minimize hand-to-mouth contact. Those who require snacks during physical activity for health reasons, however, are absolutely encouraged to bring food.
Bathrooms are not usually available at farm sites, so please plan accordingly.
Medications: If you have allergies to plants or insects, please let the trip leader know and bring any medication that you will need in case of an allergic reaction. On the farms, we are often far away from medical service. If you have other potentially life‐threatening health conditions, please inform the trip leader.
Safety: Volunteers are responsible for managing their own health on Trips. If you have a medical condition that requires attention and could be a safety risk while working in the fields, please keep necessary medications on you at all times and notify the trip leader so that they may assist you in case of emergency.
IS THERE A MINIMUM AGE FOR VOLUNTEERING?
The minimum age requirement to volunteer with our organization is 13. Volunteers under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent/guardian.
DO I HAVE TO STAY FOR THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF A VOLUNTEER SHIFT?
Because space is limited on many volunteer trips, we ask that you sign up to volunteer only when you can arrive on time and stay until the project is complete. Most projects involve 3 hours of work, not including travel time.
ARE VOLUNTEERS ALLOWED TO TAKE HOME PRODUCE AFTER A SHIFT?
On some volunteer trips, participants may take home limited amounts of surplus crops. Please ask the trip leader if you can harvest for personal use on a case-by-case basis.
HAS THE PRODUCE BEEN SPRAYED WITH CHEMICALS?
We harvest at a wide variety of properties, from large orchards to small urban farming plots. If you have a specific concern about sprayed produce, please email the Trip Leader for the specific trip which you would like to attend, and we will do our best to find out all pertinent information from the farmer.
MY PLANS CHANGED, HOW DO I CANCEL MY VOLUNTEERING?
Each trip confirmation email includes a cancellation link.If your schedule changes and you are unable to make it out to volunteer, please cancel so someone else can take your spot.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY CONTACT INFORMATION/ADDRESS CHANGES?