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!

1 comment :

  1. Love it Hannah, looking forward to working with you as the program unfolds ~ wren