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.