Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Non-Stop Link to Gleaning

Alex has made it to Maine and says she already feels at home. Alejandra, as she is known in Spain, is my first volunteer recruit. She broke my teeth when we were six years old, so I figure she owes me. No hard feelings though, it is the bond of that story which has perhaps made us lifelong friends. She will be studying vegetable farming with Barbara and Eliot at Four Season Farm, and occasionally working to support the Gleaning Initiative. Alex contributed the photos for this blog entry.

Alex learns another form of gleaning - a sea-run brookie!
Alex and I began our gleaning rounds on Friday morning at the Local Food Exchange in Blue Hill. Vendors were defiantly dancing out of rhythm to the sheets of pouring rain pounding their tarps into submission. Bill was at the Tinder Hearth stand. We got some warm hugs, some exquisite mixed greens and a loaf of tender heart bread. Ducking quickly into the next stand to get out of the rain, we found ourselves at the Bagaduce Farm with owner Deborah Evans.

Introducing ourselves as gleaners got more than the usual eye-brow raise from Deborah. Turns out she had 47.48 lbs of locally made organic sausage up for gleaning! A processing mistake in the grinding had turned 40 packages of top-quality sausage into a less than marketable item. Deborah couldn't bring herself to sell to her customers something they would regard as being different than usual. She had experienced them oozing onto the pan as she tried to cook them herself, and had sort of given up. She had been meaning to stop by Simmering Pot in Blue Hill to drop her beautiful product off, but it seems she had been waiting for a gleaner's nudge to actually part with the fruits of her hard work.

We made a plan with Deborah. I was to pick up a cooler at the Blue Hill Farmers’ Market on my way to MDI the next day, drop off at Common Good Cafe in Southwest Harbor on Saturday and get the rest to Simmering Pot by Monday.

Blue Hill Farmer's Market at Fair Grounds (Saturdays 9-11)
Laurie from Common Good Cafe had called to tell me she was interested in the black bean soup from Panera that The Tree of Life had over-ordered a few weeks ago. The packaging size turned out to be too big for pantry customers (8lbs per bag) to take home with them, so the Gleaning Initiative reached out to the different meal sites nearby.

The Common Good Cafe is currently serving popovers to fundraise and stock up with food for the winter soup distribution program. They make nutritious soups from all the great products available in summer, freeze them, and then redistribute them to people who don't have a steady source of food during winter. I mentioned to Laurie over the phone that sausages had just become available, and asked whether she had the space to store 30 lbs of organic pork sausage. Laurie readily accepted.

We dropped off frozen soup and sausages at 11am at the Common Good Cafe.

I touched every single package as quality control to make sure that frozen packages went to Common Good Cafe, and slightly thawed packages were kept for Simmering Pot's Monday community meals. The Common Good was not planning on using the sausages until late summer, when they prepare meals for the winter, so the sausages could not be thawed and then refrozen.

When we spoke to Paula Mrozicki, at the Simmering Pot, she said they would have rather had the sausages frozen. Because the meal was already being planned by the Blue Hill Hospital they would not have found a use for the sausages until the following week. We suggested coming down on Monday morning at 10am to cook the 15 lbs of sausage into a spicy pork meat and tomato bolognese sauce that could be frozen and used over the course of coming months.

After leaving the sauce to cool for five hours, we went back to fill five 1/2 gallon containers with the sausage bolognese sauce. Not only is the Simmering Pot freezer now stocked for the season with a delicious sauce, food and people, farms and meal sites, and the Gleaning Intitiative itself, have made new lasting linkages within the community that directly confront food insecurity.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Local Gleaning Teams

Back in Harborside, a mile from Four Season Farm, I drove from the other direction along a narrow dirt road delicately bordering this incredible Maine coastline. As I approached what used to be Forest Farm, I tried to picture how the original settlers Helen and Scott Nearing had arrived back in the 1950s. I wondered how the same land they had drifted to half a century earlier, in search for a place to call home, was going to welcome this gleaning dream emerging before me.

I envisioned people, bounty and eager offerings of labor.

I was venturing out to meet Nancy and Warren Berkowitz who have been caring for the upkeep of the gardens at the old Nearings’ farm, now named The Good Life Center. It has been an ongoing community effort to maintain the remaining gardens as they were half a century ago. The Good Life Center is supported by individual donations as well as the proceeds from the Nearings’ book sales ( The space, open to the public, plays an important role as having been one of the first of the homesteader movement in Maine.

The newly arrived 2013 Nearing Resident Wren Haffner approached me as I arrived, and we immediately got carried away in what turned out to be a shared gleaning vision. We spoke of the garden as a space to bring practical learning to future community gleaners, furthering the role of gleaning as a way to connect back with farming as a community building activity. We discussed the educational component for all ages, but specifically targeting adolescent youth or people at risk of social exclusion looking for an opportunity for reintegration.
The Good Life Center’s garden
The Good Life Center embraces the notions of simple living the Nearings lived by, and the Center strives to remain true to their principles, practices and gardening traditions. Scott Nearing was himself a strong advocate for social justice, leading the fight against child labor that got him banned from teaching, threfore cornering him into the good life itself. Helen had been given the choice of higher education or traveling the world, and having chosen the later, she was joined later in life by Scott with whom she would move from New York City to the pristine nature in Vermont, to Harborside, where the Nearings finally found a place to call home, "The Good Life" or maybe some of us refer to it as “The Way Life Should Be”.

The Good Life Center Apple Trees
The Original Nearings' Home

Yesterday I listened to Sister Lucille, who began her work at the Emmaus Center in Ellsworth, speaking on WERU radio program Talk of the Town, moderated by Ron Beard. Panelists of the Grand Theater in Ellsworth’s showing of “A Place At The Table” explained to us that Maine, although a seemingly beautiful landscape, has an underbelly of food insecurity that is not the way life should be at all. Relating the problem of poverty to the limited access to healthy food options, the documentary stated that 50 million people in the United States are underserved. Locally, the Tree of Life Food Pantry in Blue Hill has determined that 14.8% of Blue Hill Peninsula residents rely in some way on the food pantry to get by - see Video “Turning Clothing into Food”.

The Good Life Center also tackles the issue of hunger by growing vegetables for the Simmering Pot’s free-by-donation community meal at the Blue Hill Congregational Church on Mondays from 2:30pm to 6pm. Started by a student of well-known local Chef Jonathan Chase, the Simmering Pot offers a cooked weekly meal open to all community members, which can either be enjoyed sitting down at the table with others, or taken home. The Blue Hill Memorial Hospital has recently signed on to sponsor one of these meals a month and organizes doctors and other community members to come down and get to know each other. This is a wonderful effort to web together long-lasting community ties that can support the estimated 20% of Blue Hill Peninsula residents who find themselves experiencing food insecurity, whether they ask for help or not.

Mary Hildebrand, long-time Simmering Pot volunteer

Free produce from C&G growers
This summer, The Good Life Center and The Gleaning Initiative, a collaboration of Healthy Acadia and UMaine Cooperative Extension, are planning a program together to teach basic gardening skills to an open group of gleaning volunteers. This is being designed as an opportunity for people of all ages to reconnect around gleaning as a community event. Volunteers will experience some of the teachings of how old and new practices of growing vegetables can be combined to serve different needs, approaching the complexity of food distribution, and considering hard questions about hunger in a lively learning environment from the ground up.

Wren, Warren and Nancy discussed turning up a new garden with the gleaning volunteers, planting deer-proof crops, like potatoes, since they are the most likely to be successful in a vegetable garden project developed out of lawn space. If you are wondering what to grow for your community, potatoes are in high demand, since they can usuall only be found locally until around December. If you don't know where to start we can support you through our program Maine Harvest for Hunger for seeds and skills.

Meanwhile, weeding, harvesting and logistical skills can be practiced through The Gleaning Initiative’s “gleaner-welcome farms” in Hancock County. So far  King Hill Farm, Old Ackley Farm, and Four Season Farm have embraced the notion of gleaning on their farms, and now its a question of forming a ready gleaning response team that is sensitive to the cause and motivated for the work. Darthia Farm in Gouldsboro is on board for a Schoodic Peninsula Team to work on their farm to get trained, and Star Root Farm in Ellsworth is also on board for finding new creative ways to support the Gleaning Initiative. Meanwhile more Community Gardens such as the College of the Atlantic run by Suzanne Morse, and the Jackson Lab, run by Wellness Director Ben Billings, are going to be contributing produce to our Gleaning Initiative through the Maine Harvest for Hunger program lead by the Umaine Extension. Employees of the Jackson Lab will be gardening during thier breaks, and in the evenings be able to deliver to food pantries and meal-sites as part of their efforts.

If the dream comes true, a Secret Cafe, where meals are made by mysterious and wondrous cooks, traveling all over Hancock County, will spread edible delights throughout our communities, based on gleaned ingredients and simple recipes. The plan is for all fresh produce to be gifted to those who can make the best and readiest use of the food; and the hope is that people will turn to gleaning as the next best thing for fun, health and a day or two at the farm.

To check in with The Gleaning Initiative contact Hannah Semler - or call 667-7171 for info on your local team and to get involved for a few hours, days or weeks.

Gleaning activities coming up!

NOW! This summer the Gleaning Initiative will be rolling out its Training Program forming local teams (Blue Hill Peninsula, Schoodic Peninsula, Mount Desert Island, and Mainland) that can help farms weed, wash and chop, as well as distribute to a local food pantry, meal-site or commercial kitchen.

Farm, kitchen or pantry, get connected with the gleaning initiative to help make this work for you!

Early Fall! We've identified another gleaning activity in early fall parallel to King Hill Farm’s Carrot Harvest in Blue Hill where you can work for food or get paid to harvest, and where gleaning is an integral part of post-harvest clean up.

Late Fall! Later in the fall apple gleaning across the county will build relationships across the State to get apples off the ground and down from trees that would otherwise go to waste. The plan is to come up with a plan to make apple sauce and press cider for all who participate using a commercial kitchen that will allow us to also donate the products to the food pantries. We shall see!