Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Maintenance Gleaning for All, by Celia Hurvitt

A few weeks ago while thinning beets at Jon Hyk’s garden, I was introduced to the term “maintenance gleaning.” While supporting the farmer’s need to create more space for a row of beets to grow, we thinned out the smaller plants, harvesting beet greens for the local Bucksport Community Concerns Food Pantry. 
The Gleaning room filled with beet greens from our day at Jon Hyk’s garden. 

I realized that this was a very practical farmer-gleaner exchange. It ensured both parties benefitted from the time and effort spent in the field: two birds with one stone! Maintenance gleaning is the epitome of the kind of mutually beneficial relationship we hope to build between the community and farmers. It turned my attention to the other types of exchanges also happening when gleaning, such as weeding around the bed that is being gleaned, pulling plants to leave space for new crops, and allowing farmers to deepen their connection to their community with increased food donations, while increasing volunteers’ knowledge of the local food system.

Gleaning Spinach at Jon Hyk’s Garden
One Tuesday morning I headed out with my fellow intern, Ramsay Williamson, a recent graduate of the University of Vermont, to Jon Hyk’s garden in Prospect with promises of plenty of beet greens and spinach. When we arrived we were shown over to a row of beets and told to thin and weed half of the bed. At first I was confused, what did he want us to glean? I was expecting to only get one small crate from the short row, but when we started my mind changed completely. Thinning the beets turned out to be no simple task. We had to find the smallest beets and pull them out to let the large ones swell up and have space to grow. It was hard to balance the tugging and untangling the greens with making sure not to uproot the larger beets. Despite this, we both remarked upon the fact that beets are a perfect crop to glean. Thinning them produces beet greens, which are a delicious alternative to kale or chard. Then, by taking the time to thin them you leave room for the main event, delicious sweet beets come August. As we went down the rows we pulled up poked, untangled, and gently pulled until we had a row of happy plants and three big crates of delicious greens. With crates full and a hopeful invitation to come back for some of the beets in August, we left the farm feeling like very successful gleaners.

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