5 Things I Learned from my First Gleaners Experience
by Kristin McGovern
When I received last week’s Gleaning Opportunities email (if you haven’t already signed up – you can do so by clicking here), I saw that it was going to be a Saturday gleaning (perfect!) for 3 hours in the morning. They only needed 6 people for this opportunity so I signed up right away (the signup filled quickly – but you can always email to see if they can take more volunteers).
On Saturday, I went to Brookwood Farm, a DCR property in Canton at the base of the Blue Hills reservation. This is an organic farm that offers a CSA to local folks. They contacted Gleaners because they had 3 crops to be gleaned – spinach, lettuce and broccoli leaves.
My time at the farm was amazing, and I wanted to share with you five things that I learned:
- Gleaning is hard but rewarding work. They tell you this when you sign up, but I do want to reiterate the hard work part. It is a lot of bending and/or kneeling. If you have back issues or knee challenges, talk to/email the coordinator and see if there are any accommodations that they recommend. But there is an incredible feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment when you are working – and when you are done!
- Be prepared to get REALLY dirty. Again, no duh, right? But really – at least for our session we didn’t wear gloves and we were kneeling in soft, wet (beautiful!) soil. So what does “be prepared” mean?
- Wear junky pants (long pants are required – no shorts) that you don’t mind getting dirty.
- Wear sneakers and socks that you don’t care about. Or waterproof closed-toed shoes that are comfortable.
- Bring a towel to put on your car seat for when you drive home (whoops – thought of that as I was getting into my car to leave…)
- It will be HOT. “Boy, Captain Obvious, you are filled with blatantly crystal clear ‘advice’, aren’t you?” I know, but it bears repeating. As we enter the summer months, you will be in the sun for 3 hours – no shade. They DO have sunblock and bug spray (yay!) but bring a hat and sunglasses. And maybe skip the long-sleeved shirt (I was following what I thought were the rules – but turns out you CAN wear short sleeved shirts…). They have water but bring your own reusable bottle as well.
- Don’t be afraid to go alone. Many of these opportunities early in the season will be only for 6-8 people. But I can attest to the fact that you will meet some really great people. In my group, we had: a man from Australia who is at MGH for his residency, lives in Beacon Hill and took the Red Line AND rode his bike to get to Canton; a recent retiree who has been gleaning for 5 years and is so enthusiastic that she joined the Gleaner’s board; a woman from Needham (whom I didn’t know!) who found out about Gleaners by Googling something like “volunteer opportunities for farm waste”; and a newlywed young man who drives a delivery truck for Peapod and is passionate about farming. The guy on the far right is from Gleaners. It was a fascinating crew and you really get to know people while whacking away at lettuce heads ?.
- You will learn a lot! Here are just a few random things I learned:
- The farms need to be gleaned for various reasons but they are generally something like this: They must over-plant due to the uncertainties of farming; once they have determined their own needs they generally don’t have the time or labor to gather up the rest; if Gleaners didn’t come in, the crop would generally be plowed under. Sad but true!
- There are TONS of delicious greens and things that I had never thought of eating. One was broccoli leaves. They gave me a few to try – they were delicious! Another was carrot tops – who knew they make a great pesto?
- The reasons people volunteer vary greatly, but the one common theme is that everyone hates to see such beautiful food go to waste given hunger and poverty issues.
- The produce that is gleaned is gorgeous – the kind of thing you’d find at the farmer’s market. For example, the petite heads of lettuce – a variety of types – were so incredibly perfect! I found it reassuring that the produce donated wasn’t questionable.
- Volunteering for Gleaners is a fun, informative and fulfilling way to spend a few hours!
Interested in checking it out? Sign up to be a Gleaner by clicking here!