By Sam Dixon
Through my gleaning experiences I’ve had the privilege to work with a wise farmer who often says, “the more you give away, the more you get back.” Reflecting on this past season, I don’t think his belief could be more accurate.
There is a growing need in our community for the most basic of items – food. Right now, every 1 of 8 households in Rutland County is food insecure. That is quite a few of our neighbors. With the holidays fast approaching, it is all too easy to get swept up with our own feasts and neglect the things we should truly be thankful for.
At RAFFL, we’re giving thanks to the generous farmers and volunteers who have helped us feed the community.
Maybe you haven’t heard, but community members have been mobilizing – taking to farmers markets, farm stands, and farmers’ fields all over the county. For the past 5 years, The Glean Team has worked with farmers and organized volunteers to rescue agricultural surplus directly at the source. After the produce is gleaned – either through harvest or collection – it is then delivered to charitable food sites all over Rutland County.
This year, our volunteers almost doubled their hours of service – logging just over 470 hours on farms ranging from Danby to Mendon. With all of that time volunteers were able to rescue and then distribute a whopping 18,500 pounds of fresh produce directly to those who need it the most.
Not only are those in need able to receive food to satiate their hunger, it’s incredibly fresh, healthy food – something that doesn’t always make its way to food shelves. And without our gleanings this year, this surplus food may not have made it to anyone’s plate at all. Reducing waste and feeding those in need – almost nine tons worth of food – is certainly something we can all be thankful for.
The Rutland Community Cupboard, Young at Heart Senior Center, Poultney Food Shelf, Fair Haven Concerned, Rutland County Parent Child Center, BROC, Dodge House, The Boys and Girls Club, and The Open Door Mission are just a few of the sites that receive produce through The Glean Team.
Usually only receiving shelf staples, this fresh produce has a huge impact on the clients at these charitable food sites. The donations are crucial since the produce can then be accessed by not only the kitchens preparing meals for those in need, but also for individuals to take home to their families. As you read this, the last deliveries of winter squash, potatoes, cabbages, and carrots are making their way into the Thanksgiving meals of families, friends, and neighbors all around us.
The farmers involved with The Glean Team believe everyone should have a place at the table and they set out with a simple vision: to grow nutritious food for their communities. More than anything else, volunteers, charitable sites, and RAFFL depend on the commitment of our area farmers to do what they do – grow food. The hard work truly starts with them.
After the dedicated work of preparing the soil, sowing seeds, and nurturing the plants to maturity, farmers then hope for cooperative weather. After weeks of diligence and patience, and if all goes well, they are rewarded with a bounty of delicious produce – mountains of squash, truckloads of corn, or forests of kale – all waiting to get to hungry bellies.
Excess food occurs on farms either through bumper crops, when it is missed by mechanical harvest, or if it just not quite perfect enough to sell. Simply put, produce goes to waste because it is just not in the right place at the right time. That’s when The Glean Team steps in.
Without volunteer involvement none of this would happen. Getting in the field for an hour, devoting an afternoon at the market, transporting produce 10 miles, sorting potatoes, providing storage, donating boxes – all of these little acts culminate to create something huge and truly impactful. Every bean that was picked, carrot pulled, or lettuce head cut, put us over the top this year. And we couldn’t have done it without your help!
I’ve heard the old saying goes “If you tell a Vermonter to do something they won’t do it. But, if you ask them, they’ll do anything over the sun for you.”
From RAFFL, and on behalf of all those that benefitted from your efforts, we’d like to say thank you to our farmers and Glean Team volunteers.
Sam Dixon is the Glean Team Coordinator for the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.