By Julie Schubert
April marks my ninth month of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. Upon arriving in Vermont in August I was introduced to the world of gleaning, a word which I have found elicits some confusion. By definition, “gleaning” describes the act of harvesting excess produce. In practice, gleaning has exposed me to a variety of tasks, ranging from digging potatoes, coordinating volunteers, to mastering the art of backing a van up to a loading dock. As I’ve gathered veggies, I’ve gathered anecdotes to share with friends and family who continue to ask exactly what it is I’m doing in Vermont.
What I’ve been doing is learning a lot! I’ve learned how to fit over 1,000 pounds of sweet potatoes into a van, what a Hubbard squash is and just how satisfying it is to reach an apple at the very top of a tree. But, more poignantly I’ve learned how grateful and happy someone can be upon receiving a ripe zucchini from a farm twenty miles down the road and how tirelessly and selflessly people in this community work to ensure all have access to the nutritious, wholesome food they need and deserve. I’ve learned that gleaning is so much more than I had ever anticipated. Ultimately gleaning is about the relationships - between farms, recipient sites and volunteers - built and fostered around the common goal of helping one another.
These past months I have also spent time crunching numbers, which is an essential part of the story. In 2015, RAFFL’s Glean Team was hard at work gleaning 36,500 pounds of produce from 29 Rutland-area farms. 135 community volunteers lent a hand contributing 553 hours. And 27 recipient sites were served. To add a dollar value to this gleaned bounty – that’s an estimated value of over $59,200 worth of produce!
These numbers rightly evoke a sense of accomplishment and hold significant meaning but they cannot tell the full story or share the full impact. The specific pound totals and numbers from this year of service may fade from my mind, however the connections to this land and its people - those who plant it and nourish it and those who eat from it - are something I will take with me long after this year of service ends.
I hope you will join us in learning more about gleaning in our area and how to get involved. RAFFL's Glean Team is holding a kick-off event on Monday, May 9 at 6:30pm in Tuttle Hall Theater at College of Saint Joseph. There will be a free screening of the food waste documentary ‘Just Eat It’ followed by a conversation about food waste in your community and what is being done throughout Vermont. All are welcome to join for a night of food, fun and conversation!
Julie Schubert is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at Rutland Area Farm and Food Link as the Glean Team Coordinator. With a degree in Plant Science from Penn State University, she is passionate about sustainable agriculture and connecting those who are food insecure to local, wholesome produce - she is very happy to have found the Glean Team! Contact her at 802-558-5789 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Orginially published in the Rutland Herald on May 2, 2016.