By Katie Reuther
The mist hung over the mountains as I headed west toward Dutchess Farm in Castleton. The RAFFL Glean Team gleans there every Wednesday morning, harvesting surplus produce that is later donated to area food service sites across Rutland County. It had rained the night before, grey clouds hung in the sky and the ground was wet and muddy.
As I arrived at the farm, I could see the Dutchess crew busily filling their morning order. They walked along the numerous rows of vegetables, picked some here and there, and packed them into boxes. As I do every Wednesday morning, I met Geoff, the farm manager at Dutchess. He walked me around, pointing out the vegetable beds the Glean Team volunteers would be working in that morning. We chatted about the salad mix and radishes he wanted us to harvest – their quality, the best way to harvest them and how much there was to take.
After Geoff and I discussed the produce and expected volunteers for the day, he headed off to finish filling his order, and I headed back to my car to unload and prepare for coming volunteers. I set out the buckets to bring into the fields, got out the collection of small knives, assembled the waxed boxes for packing the produce and set out the scale to weigh it all. Following the arrival of several enthusiastic volunteers, from local community members to students from a summer program, we got to work. We gleaned over 40 pounds of lettuce and 50 pounds of radishes. Harvesting right out of the field has enhanced my knowledge of each vegetable’s growing season and their just-picked appearance – before they are made to look like the perfect, packaged, supermarket produce with which we are all familiar.
After harvesting, we packaged the produce in waxed boxes, weighed, and labeled them. I then headed to Thomas Dairy, on Route 7 in Rutland, to store the produce until its delivery on Monday. Thomas Dairy generously lets RAFFL store hundreds of pounds of produce in its cooler every week. The Thomas Dairy workers are always helpful and friendly, and routinely take time out of their day to put the produce into the cooler and take it out, when needed. This is only a sliver of the generosity and kindness that I see on a daily basis as the coordinator for the RAFFL Glean Team.
Before I started, I admit, I knew little about gleaning. But now I’ve gained insight into a whole other world of which I am thankful to have become a part. I have joined a community of farmers, consumers and passionate people working to connect the two. The passion and dedication of my coworkers at RAFFL is contagious, and it inspires me to become more active in my local community and food system. Other organizations around the state are also working to create access to surplus food, including Salvation Farms, and they’ve also helped inspire me to become more active in my local community and food system
As I write, I am almost two months into my internship, and I know farmers by name, their farm operations, and the produce that they grow. I know many of the people at each delivery site, both staff and consumers, and the amount of produce that they use every week.
With each situation as the Glean Team coordinator, whether it’s picking up produce at a farm, delivering at a donation site, meeting volunteers out in the field to glean, or picking up donated produce at the end of the Rutland Farmers Market, I am constantly reminded of the generous and grateful community in which we live. Each week, I have a farmer tell me how appreciative he or she is that we are running the gleaning program, or a delivery site thanks me profusely for the fresh food that we help coordinate and bring to them.
With just a small time investment, volunteers can participate in any, or all aspects of Glean Team operations while having fun, gaining insight into our local food system, and meeting community members and local farmers.
Katie Reuther is a local Vermonter from North Chittenden, currently attending Middlebury College.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.