WHAT DOES “GLEAN” MEAN?

According to Wikipedia, gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested, or from fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest. The USDA defines gleaning as simply the act of collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, state/county fairs, or any other sources in order to provide it to those in need.

Gleaning is a practice described in the Hebrew Bible that became a legally enforced entitlement of the poor in a number of Christian kingdoms.

•Leviticus 23:22 – When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.

•Deuteronomy 24:21 – When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

The 2018 “Glean and Share” pilot project, organized by the Our Harvest Food Cooperative and several other Cincinnati-area sustainable food organizations, set out to work directly with an experienced farmer and learn how to harvest, sort, and clean fresh produce gleaned from the field and deliver it to community sites to share with people in need.

This is the third article in a series about the Glean & Share project. Swiss chard and kale were gleaned in June and blueberries in July. (The first article appeared in the May 2018 Connections and the second in the September 2018 Connections.)

Some of the Glean Team

We scheduled two Glean and Share tomato events at the Our Harvest – Bahr Farm in College Hill in August with about 30 days advance notice. We started each day at 7:30 a.m., enjoyed good weather conditions, beat the heat and wrapped up by 10 a.m. both days. A total of 14 gleaners participated.

We learned about green, ripe, breaking, second grade, and compost stage tomatoes from Our Harvest Farm Manager Stephen Dienger. We harvested and sorted about 500 lbs. of tomatoes during the two gleaning events. Over 200 lbs. of second grade tomatoes were then shared with the Shelterhouse in Walnut Hills, First Baptist Church Cumminsville, and the Community Matters food pantry in Price Hill.

PILOT PROJECT IMPACT – METRICS

Original metrics focused on the number of gleaning days, volunteers and pounds of produce gleaned and shared. We learned to think about servings and the number of lives we touched. We shared 1,260 servings of fresh produce, assuming serving sizes as follows:

June – Swiss chard / Kale – 4 cups raw per serving; 300 lbs. gleaned = 300 servings

July – Blueberries – 4 oz. fresh per serving; 40 lbs. gleaned = 160 servings

September – Tomatoes – 1 cup fresh per serving; 200 lbs. gleaned = 800 servings

IMPACT – PLACES SERVED

We shared fresh farm produce within four counties (Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren) in the ten-county Green Umbrella Regional Sustainability Alliance service area. Fourteen communities and destinations received and then shared cooked or preserved, fresh produce, including Shelterhouse – the David and Rebecca Barron Center for Men and Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women in Walnut Hills, Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in Walnut Hills, Church of the Advent Open Door Ministries in Walnut Hills, Queen City Kitchen in Price Hill, Community Matters Food Pantry in Mt. Auburn, Church of Our Savior in Mt. Auburn, First Baptist Church in South Cumminsville, St. Pius Place Senior Center in South Cumminsville, the Goshen United Methodist Church Food Pantry, Melon Ridge Assisted Living Facility in Goshen and LIFE Food Pantry in Loveland.

REFLECTIONS OF A GLEAN TEAM COMMUNITY LEADER

I was very excited to participate in the Glean and Share pilot. My predecessor, Susan Jorgensen, had gotten South Cumminsville involved in the project. I took over for her towards the end of the summer, so I didn’t know much about origins of the program. I participated in gleaning tomatoes at Our Harvest Farm. I got to talk with a few folks about the project and what folks planned to do with their shares. It makes a lot of sense to me that if people are going without food, but farmers are having to waste their unusable produce, there should be a bridge to get the unused food to those who need it. Even still, getting fresh produce to folks in need is one thing but once they have it there’s no telling whether they know what to do with it. It (would) be great if we found a way to add a preservation aspect. Giving away organic produce also opens the conversation to educating folks that (some) produce doesn’t look like store-bought food but is much better for them.

The program brings people together through the work days. Folks from different neighborhoods and organizations coming together and getting to know each other’s stories. As I’ve become more familiar with its purpose, I really think the program has the potential to help local producers and consumers.

Shamariah Brown, Fresh Food Access Coordinator – AmeriCorps VISTA, Working in Neighborhoods

REFLECTIONS OF THE GLEAN TEAM LEAD FARM MANAGER

I just wanted to say how appreciative I am of the Glean and Share program. From my end, the program was a great success! It was well-organized and well-communicated, and streamlined my job to prepare for, train and manage the volunteers. We had help harvesting and in return we could donate our seconds. We would be stripping off the damaged chard and kale leaves anyways, or sorting out the seconds tomatoes, so the volunteer help lightened our load. We typically compost the kale and chard leaves that are considered too damaged to sell. We also sell our seconds tomatoes to customers to do their own processing or we have a processor make them into our tomato products. In one form or another they still have a use and are no less nutritious. It’s nice to have people who appreciate “ugly” produce. I enjoyed getting to know the volunteers and sharing my knowledge of vegetable farming, of which I am most passionate. I was happy to come in early on a few Saturdays to be a part of this program and would do it again if given the opportunity. Many thanks!

Stephen Dienger, Co-Farm Manager, Our Harvest Cooperative

LESSONS LEARNED

The pilot project provided operational reality, challenges and insights into sustainability, discovery, safety, scheduling, transportation, equity, value and open communication. Some of the golden nuggets include:

Scheduling a “Glean and Share” event 30 days in advance allows for planning, recruiting of gleaners and preparation for destination and purpose. Mother Nature became the wild card.

We learned the value of discovering and identifying in advance, destination community sites and organizations prepared to receive, process, cook, freeze, serve and share the farm fresh fruit and vegetables.

Transportation for glean team members to get to the two farms was by personal vehicle. Several participants did not have cars, yet still found a way to participate. Church van transportation (CH-uber) options should be considered for sustainability, flexibility and convenience for all gleaners. It would be interesting to explore more convenient community-to-farm options with Cincinnati Metro.

The Society of St. Andrew (SoSA), our Glean & Share mentors, highly recommended the use of gleaner Liability and Waiver forms and allowed the pilot project to use their template format. For safety purposes, we chose to require all gleaners to be at least 18 years old. An unintended consequence was to turn down an offer to glean by a Boy Scout troop whose leader wanted to participate.

The current wage for an entry level employee at most US farms is between $10 and $12/hour. This would be the likely wage for a fully trained, experienced worker to pick and sort. This project helped participants experience and appreciate the hard work that occurs on farms and throughout the farming industry at or near minimum wage.

The Glean and Share pilot project benefited from active participation from three farmers – Stephen Dienger (Our Harvest – Bahr Farm/College Hill), Samantha Gordon and Scott Gordon (Bee Haven Honey/Gordon Family Farm in New Richmond, OH). It is difficult to measure the economic value of the knowledge shared by participating farmers and the experience gained by Glean Team volunteers. Recognition and appreciation for farmer and gleaner time and effort is greatly appreciated.

The benefits to the volunteer Glean Team members included both direct and intangible benefits; including farm fresh vegetables and fruits for personal use, farm and nature experience, education by and interaction with experienced farmers, shared human experience and the satisfaction of sharing fruits of labor with neighbors in need.

2019 AND BEYOND

Becoming a part of the nationwide gleaning movement creates the opportunity for larger scale and a higher probability of sustainability. Annual funding of at least $50,000 would provide one full-time or two part-time project manager(s) and some expense coverage to expand Glean and Share to other farms and communities in the southwest Ohio/Central Ohio River Valley in 2019.

Conversations with the Society of St. Andrew, including the regional leader for Indiana, offer a path to ongoing collaboration and cooperation. Time, experience and funding could lead to formal integration with a SoSA chapter in southwest Ohio, southeast Indiana and northern Kentucky.

If interested in learning more about participating, funding or supporting Glean & Share in 2019 and beyond, please contact either Brian Shircliff of VITALITY Cincinnati at vitalitycincinnati@gmail.com or Mike Eck at miketeck@gmail.com.

Mike Eck is a food justice advocate and is actively involved in the local organic food movement in southwest Ohio. He and his wife, Denise, are members of Christ Church, Glendale.