Monday, December 2, 2013

Until the Fifth Freeze

In Downeast Maine, the farming season is defined by first and last frost dates, but I've found that gleaning runs wild until the first or second or even fifth freeze! Three weeks ago, a gleaning team of four set out in two cars to Four Season Farm to rescue food from 20-degree-weather. Thinking this might be the last of the gleaning, we delivered 140 heads of lettuce, 50 pounds of carrots and 70 pounds of leeks to The Tree of Life and Bucksport Community Concern Food Pantries. To my surprise, just this morning I received a phone call from Barbara Damrosch, of Four Season Farm, to follow up with a conversation I had with Eliot Coleman at the Local Food Exchange (Mainescape 10am-1pm on Saturdays) about what might be left to glean. Barbara stated they had "a winter supply of carrots that have to get out of the ground before it freezes solid". So that is how gleaning in Hancock County made its way into the month of December. However, we most certainly have not gotten it all. I can't help but wonder how many tons of our food has been left to freeze on our Maine farms' fields out of sheer lack of community gleaning connections. How do other organizations do it?

In an attempt to gain a broader perspective of gleaning strategies in New England, this fall I visited and interviewed three organizations, to learn about their approaches, experience and lessons learned to be brought home to Hancock County's Gleaning Initiative in Maine.  

Salvation Farms, a gleaning organization in Vermont, has in their mission statement "to build increased resilience in Vermont’s food system through agricultural surplus management". Supporting their farmers and aligning the gleaning goals with the farming needs comes as a pre-requisite. The key outcomes of gleaning are food waste prevention and increased food security, but in some programs, such as Salvation farm's commodity program, individuals serving a sentence are given the opportunity to serve their community as well. Founded, directed, and reinvented after years of collaboration with the Vermont Food Bank, by Theresa Snow, Salvation Farms recognizes the role of gleaning in community transformation, and so looks for those inflection points where the activity can meet a set of combined needs. 

Willing Hands, an New Hampshire with whom the author harvested apples this Fall, primarily rescues food that has already entered the distribution supply chain. They have a truck that travels from store to market to farmstand picking up food that would otherwise not get sold in time to get used. They collect tons of food and redistribute them to food pantries and meal-sites, and have recently started collaborating with the Vermont Food Bank. In Quechee Vermont a crew of seven people gathered in a familiar and dedicated celebration of ensuring good food does not go to waste. 

Boston Area Gleaners in Waltham Mass is a gleaning organization that focuses on the concept of "harvesting for hunger". 'Duck' explained that they work with small farmers in the Boston Metropolitan area, providing surplus management for the farms they work with, to increase community access to food. Because of the urban area in which they work, it seems that farmers are more protective and tend to be careful about allowing gleaning but not attracting pilfering. It is a transitional area with more hired farmers than generational farmers. The relationship of the farmers with the gleaning organization is important as it evolves based on the needs of the community, but it is essential that a gleaning coordinator role be managed professionally. The farmers are provided with certificates that show the information and stats of what has been gleaned each time, and they get free publicity, through the organization, to show the public the farmers' interest in the well-being of their community.

We hope to bridge more collaboration between these New England gleaning organizations, to further the surplus management and food waste recovery efforts of our region, and ensure food security strategies that best support our local farms.

Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving, and may the abundance continue to be shared!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Root Gleaning @ North Branch Farm (Monroe, Maine)

Before I begin; a side note about what I have not written about.

I have not written about the First International Conference on Global Food Security where a poster of my work on food waste prevention was presented, earlier this month in Holland. Nor have I mentioned my address to 600 international food security academics, which seemed to shift the tone of the conference, calling for research to documentat and validate local food security initiatives that are working in different regions of the world. The conference was a perfect opportunity for diagnosing the beast while gleaning ideas and contacts, and working to identify what local initiatives related the problem of food waste to an opportunity for food security.
 Poster by Author: "Sustainability and Waste Management in the Retail Food Business."

I have not been able to talk about the October 16th World Food Day gleaning on Mount Desert Island (see the October 31st edition of the Mount Desert Islander) where 15 volunteers in several teams gleaned 350 pounds of produce at Bar Harbor Community Farms, Beech Hill Farm, COA and Jackson Lab's Gardens.
                                Jackson Lab Team                             Bar Harbor Community Farm Team

Nor have I mentioned the Apple Gleaning Team that picked 5000 pounds of Honey Crisps at Johnston's Apple Orchard in Ellsworth two weeks ago, one apple was almost as big as Brian's head, putting us at almost 10,000 pounds of food gleaned since May.
Healthy Acadia Team                                      Emmaus Center Team

While much more could be written about all of those exciting projects, I will now turn my attention to the discovery of root crops this past Saturday as I browsed through the Mainescape Farmers’ Market in Blue Hill (Saturdays 10am to 1pm). This beautiful scene was developing before me. Vendors were hustling to get the last details of their stands ready, as the smells and energy blended together into a vision of fall to winter transition. Suddenly a voluptuous stack of multi-colored carrots and long beets caught my attention.

I introduced myself to Anna Shapley-Quinn of North Branch Farm, in Monroe, Maine, specialized in Fall/Winter crops. Having little hopes for any more leafy greens, and still unable to answer people’s inquiries of what I might be gleaning in the Fall, lights started to come on, illuminating my winter gleaning work plan: sorting root crops! We set a date for Monday.

On Monday morning, October 28th, I picked up Mellie of Star Root Farm to go out to Monroe. I had worked with Mellie during the summer, when she had been surprisingly willing to guide me through new territory triangulating between customer food preferences, farmer constraints, timing and logistics, to make a subsidized Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) work for Emmause Center and Mariaville food pantry clients. So Mellie took pictures and helped with the sorting and lugging of carrots and potatoes, but she also helped me in making strategic decisions on how to establish a professional and mutually beneficial working relationship with North Branch Farm.
The author with Anna Shapley-Quinn @ North Branch Farm

It seemed gleaning was of particular interest to these farmers: Anna, Seth Yentes, and Ada Yentes-Quinn (age 3), Tyler Yentes and Elsie Gawler, and Miriam Goler and Mark Stonehill as apprentices make up the entire team. They are gleaners themselves, food rescuers on their own fields, unable to leave seconds just lying on the ground. The intimate attachment to the food they grow has them harvesting the seconds in the hopes they will get to eat them before they go bad. But Anna, who manages the vegetable production on the farm, had reassured them they would have plenty of seconds as the crates of squash, potatoes, onions, carrots, rutabaga, turnips went through the washing and sorting processes throughout the Fall. Some seconds have an expiration date and need to be donated.

        Mellie, of Star Root Farm weighing the gleaned produce

This time we had 300 pounds of carrots and potatoes the farmers had already sorted for us. We took all of it so we could experiment with our partner food pantries and meal-sites to see what they would decide to use. We needed their input to establish different quality and usability standards for root vegetables. In the future the Gleaning Initiative will coordinate volunteers to sort root vegetables on the farm based on these standards, as we work with farmers and receiving organizations to establish them. These standards will determine which vegetables remain with the farmers to be sold, or juiced, which are taken by the gleaners to be distributed to people experiencing need, and which should be rescued by being fed to pigs or turned into compost.
I look forward to developing an intimate relationship with these recently rediscovered root crops, which have the farmers and the gleaners, doing a completely different song and dance than with summer crops.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Leanpath Project: "STOP Pause Weigh the Waste"

Press Release, Bar Harbor, ME, October, 2013

Rupununi, LeanPath and Healthy Acadia Partner on Food Waste Prevention

On Monday, September 23, Rupununi: American Bar and Grill and LeanPath launched a month-long pilot project to prevent food waste in the kitchen. Throughout the next month, Rupununi will use a LeanPath tracking device, consisting of a scale, a touch screen, and data analytics, to measure pre-consumer food waste in their kitchen. Facilitated by Healthy Acadia’s Gleaning Initiative, the goal of the project is for management and employees to identify and adopt effective waste prevention practices and raise awareness about the negative impacts of food waste in our communities.

Rupununi, a restaurant located in Bar Harbor, connected with LeanPath through Healthy Acadia this past summer. LeanPath, an international company based in Portland, Oregon, is a leader in the movement to reduce the negative impacts of food waste. Rupununi owner Michael Boland initially approached Healthy Acadia’s Gleaning Coordinator, Hannah Semler, to discuss composting options for restaurants. Through discussions and research, it became clear that a waste prevention strategy would the best and most cost-effective next step to designing a food waste reduction and management service for his restaurants. Healthy Acadia then connected LeanPath with Rupununi, and the pilot project emerged.

“We see the serious problems created by food waste, and we are excited by this opportunity to explore an innovative way to address the issue,” stated Michael Boland, owner of Rupununi. “We know of many restaurants for which this model could be very effective, and we are willing to take the lead in testing it out. We hope this will be of benefit to other businesses as well as to the overall sustainability of our food system.”

LeanPath food waste tracking technology has proven to save up to 2-6% of food purchasing costs for high-volume food service providers (universities, hospitals, casinos, etc.), but it has not yet been widely implemented in restaurant kitchens. This pilot project at Rupununi is an opportunity for LeanPath to conduct research on how to best implement the latest tracking technology in the restaurant setting and to analyze the level of impact that can be achieved.

“The LeanPath Tracker collects strategic information that owners, managers, chefs and employees can act on to reduce food waste and positively impact the triple bottom line: economic prosperity, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship,” said Dave Britton, Director of Operations at LeanPath.

The Gleaning Initiative, a project of Healthy Acadia in partnership with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, coordinates efforts to prevent food waste and increase access to healthy food for community members experiencing low-income or food insecurity across Hancock County. The Initiative engages food producers, retailers and volunteers to collect food that would otherwise go to waste and distribute it to food pantries and community meal sites in the region. This particular project is an attempt to coordinate food waste reduction efforts and improve our food systems, while providing Rupununi with a technologically based cost-saving business solution that will have a social responsibility project of food redistribution tacked onto it in innovative ways.

“We are thrilled to be working with Rupununi and LeanPath on this pilot, and we applaud them for being leaders in food waste prevention,” stated Hannah Semler, Gleaning Coordinator at Healthy Acadia. “It is critical to see food waste in the broader context of our food systems, recognizing that food waste of any kind is a tragedy when many of our neighbors are struggling with hunger.”

With the pilot project underway at Rupununi, Lead Chef Jimmy Velas is embracing the task of ensuring that he and his employees “STOP, and Weigh the Waste”. 

Rupununi Lead Chef Jimmy Velas, Rupununi kitchen employees, and Healthy Acadia’s Hannah Semler at Rupununi Food Waste Prevention Launch, September 23, 2013.
Any time there is food waste, such as expired items that were not used in time, trim waste from cutting vegetables, or overcooked menu items, employees are now weighing the food that is unable to be used. The project is designed to get comprehensive waste data with the LeanPath Tracker to make informed decisions on food waste prevention plans for next season. 

“It will be interesting to learn where our waste is coming from and what patterns emerge. Are we ordering too much of something? Are we overcooking certain things? Ringing in significant numbers of wrong orders? Do we need to adjust how much we order based on expiration dates? Answers to these questions should really be able to help us improve our processes next year to reduce waste,” said Jimmy Velas, Rupununi’s Lead Chef.

Velas will coordinate the collection of data and upload it to the LeanPath analytics dashboard on a weekly basis. LeanPath will review the data, and together with Healthy Acadia they will create a final evaluation and debrief that will serve as guidance to the restaurant for their next steps. Boland, Velas, and the Rupununi crew will be able to use the information to determine what actions make the most sense for their businesses as they continue their efforts to reduce food waste and improve the triple bottom line of economic prosperity, environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

For more information on this food waste reduction project or other efforts of the Gleaning Initiative, contact Healthy Acadia’s Gleaning Coordinator, Hannah Semler,; at (207) 677-7171 or to reach Leanpath contact Janet Haugan,; (503) 928-9085

Great Reading in the Modern Farmer! 
"Food Waste: The Next Food Revolution" (click here)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Farm Drop Gleaning Model

One of the amazing things about my job as Gleaning Coordinator is that I get to take a good look at the incredible work that farmers, community members and other organizations are doing in our communities across Hancock County; and can imagine us shifting and nudging eachother slightly towards a viable future.

Farm Drop, an online farmer’s market based at the Wineshop in Blue Hill, will now serve as a place for gleaned farm products to be gathered and then redistributed to organizations that provide for community members who are struggling with food insecurity. People who are hard-pressed to find the source of their week’s meals often receive mainly processed food that is redistributed to food pantries from the food industry’s surplus. While our food pantries strive to provide healthy and fresh options, they are constrained by budgets and the challenges of trying to simply provide enough food to meet the community’s need. The Gleaning Initiative is working in partnership with food pantries and community meal sites in a variety of ways to increase the amount of local, healthy food that they can provide. This new partnership with Farm Drop creates a system by which local farmers can conveniently donate part of the bounty still growing in their fields after harvest to the food pantries and community meal sites in the region. Farmers go to the Wineshop each week to deliver the produce purchased by community members through Farm Drop. So in the same trip they can deliver the produce to be donated. The Gleaning Initiative then coordinates the delivery of the donated produce to the food pantries and community meal sites.

While engaging in the Gleaning Initiative may provide marketing opportunities for farmers, I have seen that the primary reason why the farmers participate is due to their strong preference for their food to be eaten and to benefit the community, rather than go to “waste.” As an additional benefit, people who receive food through the Gleaning Initiative’s food programs with local producers may, when their situations change, become long-term customers of the same farms who provided the community benefit. Healthy Acadia’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program has served 133 people in Hancock County this year, of which at least five known participants have already worked out ways to stay on as CSA customers.

Last Thursday four farms, three of which use Farm Drop for direct online sales to customers, welcomed gleaners into their homes and fields to gather food that was no longer viable for commercial purposes. Four teams were created, one for each farm, and they set out to harvest the food, ensuring that their neighbors were provided for with a week’s worth of fresh vegetables from local farms.

See the WABI TV 5 story on the launch of the Blue Hill Peninsula’s Gleaning Team last Thursday 

At King Hill Farm, four volunteer gleaners, one from the UMaine Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Program, one of the Food Insecurity Group at the St. Francis Church, a Sedgwick resident, and a volunteer from the Methodist Church in Bucksport, all came out from 10am to 12pm to King Hill Farm, agreeing to be filmed by WABI TV 5 from Bangor.

The harvest was bountiful and beautiful indeed: 35 pounds of tomatoes, 40 pounds of tomatillos, 30 punds of chard, 15 pounds of kale, 5 pounds of pea-shoots (wilted).

Blue Hill Gleaning Team with Gleaning Initiative Coordinator (second from left)
For the next 8 weeks, farmers will have direct contact with Gleaning Team Coordinators in the towns of Brooksville, Penobscot, and Blue Hill. More farms and home gardens are welcome to participate, as we will be keeping a waiting list of volunteers and matching them up with their local farms as needed.

Thank you to Farm Drop, farmers and gleaning volunteers for promoting healthy and vibrant communities, and for supporting Healthy Acadia’s food security and food sovereignty efforts.

King Hill Farm owner Amanda Provencher teaching harvesting skills

At Backstage Farm a slightly different model was used. Brownyn Clement (Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps AmeriCorps VISTA member with Healthy Acadia) was joined by an Emmaus Center employee to work from 11am to 1pm on the farm. Their time served as a credit for food that was later harvested by farmers Helena and Bill to be distributed through Farm Drop. The camera crew from WABI TV was there to get a good look at what the farmers themselves refer to as the smallest farm in Hancock County. A total of 13 punds, of carrots, 12 pounds of potatoes, 15 pounds of beets, 4 pounds of onions, 6 pounds of swiss chard.

Everything except the beets and chard were on Paula Mrozicki’s wish list for the Simmering Pot’s Monday night meal 2:30-6pm. Winter squash soup is on the menu!!!

At Clayfield Farm a serendipitous magic that seems to have been following me for the past year since approaching the topic of food waste, arrived a few minutes after me, to this beautiful little farm in East Blue Hill. This time it was meeting Tammy and Zoe. Neighbors of farmers Phil and Deborah, Tammy had been looking for a socially engaging, outdoors home-schooling activity for Zoe, and found the idea of gleaning to be the perfect thing. Ten minutes later we were selecting tomatoes from the plants Phil and Deborah were “done with”. In the end some 10 pounds of extra corn, too small or only partially developed, made it to the Wineshop the next day alongside the 40 pounds of tomatoes.

The best apple I've ever tried; a new variety called Honey Crisp. It had a dimple and therefore could not be sold as Grade A. Phil is serious about his quality standards and takes for granted that some waste is inevitable on the farm. He will also sell seconds, however he is thrilled to be sharing the bounty from his small farm through the Farm Drop distribution system.

At Four Season Farm, an employee of Tinder Hearth Bakery met the farmers at 8am to harvest 40 pounds of swiss chard, which were delivered to the Farm Drop location at the Wineshop that afternoon (thank you Bill Giordano at Valley of the Stars Farm for delivering).

Bill Giordano dropping off gleaned chard from Four Season Farm

Once the food is delivered to the central location of the Farm Drop Online Farmer's Market, meal-sites and food pantries show up to shop for the products they need that week based on other arrangements and sources of food they receive. Meanwhile boxes are put together for other organisations in Hancock County based on their storage and processing capacity. There are also systems in place to make sure food waste unfit for human consumption is fed directly to pigs. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Gleaning for Yom Kippur

Two families approached Healthy Acadia this week, looking for a volunteer opportunity to do together on Saturday. We had previously set up a Gleaning Opportunity at White’s Farm in Monroe for Sunday, but several volunteers had yet to confirm. This was going to be the first gleaning event of the year and I wanted to be sure it was a celebration. The two families could not make it on Sunday; it had to be Saturday. I was thinking it would be great to be able to create a gleaning opportunity on Saturday to involve the families who had approached us, and so I called the Monroe farmer, Stewart, to ask about moving his gleaning day to Saturday. I left him a message. Alternatively, it looked like another garden was available to be gleaned on Saturday - would that be a good fit?

Thursday rain. Friday rain all night. Saturday morning the weather was good, but I knew the ground would still be very wet.

Bronwyn (Healthy Acadia’s Maine Hunger Initiative VISTA) and I were at the Methodist Church in Bucksport by 7am on Saturday to recruit gleaning volunteers at their monthly breakfast. One person responded: "I am a law abiding citizen, thank you." We weren’t entirely sure what he meant: did he think that gleaning must be illegal because it is taking food for free? His comment inspired Bronwyn and me to talk about the giving and taking of gleaning on our way back from the breakfast - but not before we had signed up six people to participate in future gleaning events.

Gleaning can be seen as a service for farmers and gardeners who grow food, as it enables them to honor their basic intention to feed people, without compromising their loyalty to their much needed customers. Also, gleaning can often incorporate helping the farmer with needed tasks (such as clearing rocks) along with harvesting the unused produce. Participating in the act of rescuing food is giving back to the farmers as much as the farmers are giving to those who glean. And by having the opportunity to participate in a farming experience, gleaners are receiving as much as they are giving in the form of food. Finally, farmers opening their fields, and community members coming together to harvest food that would otherwise go to waste, to provide for those experiencing food needs is a powerful act of service and dedication to the community. The “law abiding citizen” comment and the ensuing conversation was a good reminder of the impact gleaning can have and of the community value of food.

We arrived at the Blue Hill Farmers’ Market to check in with Stewart (of White’s Farm in Monroe). He said his field was so wet there was no point in trying to pick out the rocks that weekend; we'd have to move it to next week. Maureen Griffin's garden was confirmed to be available for gleaning on Saturday afternoon, and the two families were perfect for the job. Serendipity at its best! One other person would meet us as well, so that made ten gleaning volunteers. The celebration was on!

The celebration, as it turns out, was for more than the act of gleaning itself. These two families had decided to have this gleaning day be their slightly reinvented Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday known as the Day for Atonement. Instead of the traditional hours spent in temple, four adults and four kids would give back to the communties they lived in. Not only was gleaning the perfect educational activity for their kids, and a great way to get outside and learn about food, it was part of the Old Testament's teachings they had never had the chance to live out.

"Gleaning, I mean we've always heard of it, that farmers would leave the corners of their fields unharvested, and of course there is the widow Ruth the gleaner, but we have never actually done it".

I was thrilled to leave my food politics aside for a day, and be driven into the fields by a sense of tradition. Joined by wanting to help for the sake of forgiveness, giving and sharing we all rediscovered a well-known but seldomly practiced part of our common cultural heritage. That wonderful serendipitous it was meant to be feeling led us through the most amazing day of gleaning yet: nearly 1000lbs/hr!

We gleaned for one hour and by the end had around 350 pounds of vegetables.
The Team
The Bounty
Maureen started by giving a bit of a tour of the garden, and then we set up our system with the "A Girl's Got to Glean..." pink totes located in different stations based on product type.

And then we gleaned.
There was a processing station under the tent for whoever wanted to take a break from harvesting and help prepare, package and document the food that was being harvested.

The food that was gleaned was distributed to H.O.M.E Food Pantry in Orland, Bar Harbor Food Pantry, Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in Ellsworth, and then the rest will be delivered to Bucksport Community Concern Food Pantry in Bucksport, The Welcome Table meal-site in Ellsworth, and The Common Good Soup Kitchen in Southwest Harbor. Each organization received somewhere between 30 and 80 pounds of fresh produce.

Next Gleaning event will be the rescheduled "Rock & Veg" at White's Farm (435 Monroe Rd, Winterport, ME) from 2-5pm on Sunday the 22nd of September. We are meeting at H.O.M.E Coop for anyone who would like to carpool. Call Hannah @ 667-7171 or email

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Story With Blueberries

Some friends of mine from Barcelona, Spain, who have spent the summer working on farms in the area had asked me: "What is the story with blueberries in Maine?" I changed the subject to the benefits of antioxidant-rich foods, suddenly realizing I had always taken this tiny commodity for granted.

Coincidentally, I stopped by the Welcome Table the other day to meet with Kara Ibarguen, and while we were cutting corn off the cob in preparation for their evening community meal (Wednesdays 3-6pm), one of the volunteers spoke of a job opportunity she was contemplating at Wyman's of Maine, the leading frozen blueberry operation that employs a large number of local and immigrant families.

From the conversation I gleaned that considering a job in the Cherryfield factory of Wyman's of Maine was not going to be comfortable in the least. The conversation became desperate as we all imagined her working 12-hour night shifts in an attempt to cover her bills. Was this really her only option? Would her health be affected?

One of the other volunteers, who had worked at Merrill Blueberry Farms of Hancock, Maine, explained to us what it was like to work in the laboratory of one of these factories, constantly taking samples for quality control and classifying the different grades of blueberries; a very deliberate and thorough process that these producers take very seriously. There are three different blueberry quality classifications: the Grade A blueberries sold primarily to the Japanese market, Grade B sold fresh or fresh-frozen all over the world, and Grade C used for food processors to produce juice, yogurt or ice cream.

I marvelled at these ladies, embarrassed at how much Robert McCloskey's iconic Blueberries for Sal had been a part of my upbringing, and yet how little I really knew about how blueberries have sculpted the socio-economic landscape of Maine.

I'd always heard that raking blueberries was hard work. My father raked for a few summers growing up, and said it was back breaking; however it was such good pay that as a teenager he had even imagined getting rich off it. Questions started to form in my head about our immigrant communities and their work in the blueberry industry, and the evolution of how these industries had once sustained our local communities of people - in some cases the same people who are now food insecure. 

Mary Hildebrand from the Simmering Pot community meal-site called me a couple of weeks ago to let me know her blueberry patch was ready to be gleaned.

We raked for an hour...

...and we sorted for five!

I arrived at the Emmaus Center the next day for Saturday's Free Produce and Bread Day with various donations: 50 lbs of orange blossom tomatoes from College of the Atlantic's Community Garden, some leftover cucumbers from Thursday's Produce and Bread Day, and 30 lbs of blueberries from the Gleaning Initiative's own harvest.

It turns out, I had been unable to fully separate the leaves and stems from the blueberries, and was determined to get some answers. Along with laughter at my self-effacing story, I got more than answers: "You go like this!" A woman picked up one of the rakes I had borrowed from my father's dining room wall, bent her knees and her torso, letting her arms hang down a couple feet from the ground and began brushing the air left to right drawing a figure eight through the imaginary blueberry bushes beneath her. She then held the rake above her head at an angle and let the wind blow the leaves and stems of my mind to a whole new level of appreciation as I realized that the blueberries we had picked were rightfully falling full-circle into the hands of people who had once worked so hard for blueberries I may have eaten in the past.


(left) Susannah Taylor from Bread & Circuses
Marta García-Bragado from Educant Saltamartins
 Alejandra Coll from Asilvestrada (right)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Authentic Farming and Gleaning in Monroe

This morning I woke up at 6am to head out to White’s Farm in Monroe, ME. I'd been invited by Stewart White to glean beens and large squash. It was a memorable early morning drive!

Thrilled to have found someone to come out and harvest vegetables that he can't sell or feed to his family or pigs, Stewart White confesses "the pigs are fussy, they don't like beans, and they'll eat the squash but you have to grind it up for them". Which is why the second time I showed up at the Blue Hill Farmer's Market he yelled out "Hey gleaner! Want some beans and squash?".

Stewart White has been raising pigs since the 1970s. He stopped when factory pig farms flooded supermarkets with cheap meat, making it impossible for him to sell his product. Back then his prices were 75 cents per pound, and supermarkets had their prices around 10 cents per pound, which steered all of this market away.

Five years ago, Stewart and his son started raising pigs again, seeing an emerging market driven by local consumers' interest in purchasing and eating healthy, local, sustainable meat. White's Farm has since joined the Farmers’ Markets in the region to sell products from their two businesses, Smith’s Smoke House and White’s Farm, with the motto “We Do it All”.
Stewart White’s family-run operation has raised 120 pigs this season, including 30 sows. Their 8 acres of land provides them with enough space for a large vegetable garden and plenty of room for the pigs to live at large. During summer the pigs are fed from the garden and home food waste, and in the winter Stewart gleans food from school lunches in the area.

I first approached Stewart at the Bucksport Bay Farmer’s Market one Thursday afternoon early in the season. I asked him about his pigs, and whether or not he gleaned. Many of us think of gleaning only in terms of harvesting surplus food for people to eat directly. Gleaning food for people is one way to repurpose edible food waste, but collecting food products or food waste that we would not want to eat serves an environmental purpose of reducing waste and is a resourceful way to promote food production. Gleaning follows the recycling logic with a preventive priority list that puts human diet at the top and disposal at the bottom with a series of options in between. Animal feed is the next best use of food that has gone uneaten by people.

In speaking to Stewart I learned that one limitation of gleaning to provide food for animals is that this practice does not qualify under most organic certification standards, including the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association (MOFGA) certification process. Therefore, pigs that are raised on gleaned food can not be sold as certified organic meat. This restriction is in place because a farmer can not ensure that all the food she or he gleans is organic, and therefore once the animal eats the food, the meat product can not be certain to be organic. Some controversy exists regarding this rule, one argument being that vegetables are fed with compost that may include non-organic waste. The current standards state that as long as the compost is raised past a certain temperature, it can be used on organically certified vegetables. However, could not the digestive system and metabolism of a pig be as good a cleaning mechanism of non-organic residues as is high-heat treatment? It is perhaps a stretch to compare, but it certainly seems worthy of debate, particularly as it relates to gleaning and preventing food waste from reaching landfills.

Regardless of this ongoing debate, many people do glean food for raising farm animals, including Stewart. Gleaning is a central part of his farm’s mission and practice. Like some other farms in the region, White's Farm is committed to sustainable and ecological farming practices, producing healthy food without pursuing organic certification. These farms, including Four Season Farm in Harborside, market their foods as Authentic Farming. Organic certification is an important part of the agricultural movement, enabling us to understand better the practices of farms and the healthfulness of food. At the same time, other methods can also bring about healthy and sustainable farming practices - especially when the farm is local and we can visit and learn about the farms ourselves. And in the case of gleaning to feed animals, benefits can come from practices that do not qualify as organic.

Stewart loves his pigs, and his pigs love mac n' cheese - so do our kids. By gleaning school lunches food waste disposal costs are reduced, and the educational opportunity for kids to participate in recycling, and gain respect for quality food, is gained. Stewart says “the little kids do the best job” because there is “no trash in the buckets.” It might even be an act of love for the piglets, since Stewart often brings some with him to further engage the kids in their recycling responsibilities.

Stewart used to glean from supermarkets. When he started raising pigs again with his son, he decided a vegetable garden was a good way to have extra produce for his farm stand and be able to feed his family, and provide his pigs with unused or inedible garden products. His recent collaboration with the Gleaning Initiative has given him another alternative to repurposing his garden's bounty for people who need it most.

Stewart takes pride in feeding his pigs from his garden and from gleaned leftovers. He finds it disrespectful to the animals he knows so well to do it any other way and says "they are food, and they need to be respected". The gleaning of waste from school lunches is one way he feeds his pigs in the winter, but it is not driven by economic logics - the ecological and social impact is in fact greater. He spends one and a half hours to get 60 gallons of gleaned food from schools in a day, and he also spends $60 per week on fuel to reach the schools. He says he does it because he loves his pigs, and he can teach the kids about recycling and food quality, and get them to love the pigs too - that is what makes it all worth it to him.

In the picture below see Stewart’s wood work available at Blue Hill, Bucksport Bay, and Carmel Farmer’s Markets. Check out all the great produce and other goods at the farmers’ markets throughout the region. Flyers with listings of farmers’ markets by area can be found on Healthy Acadia’s website here:

Check out White's Farm and Smith's Smokehouse, and consider Farm Drop an option for getting your weekly order of locally grown food. Also for any questions about gleaning or to get involved please contact Hannah Semler at 667-7171 or