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

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