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!