Reflections from a summer spent gleaning, from our pun-loving Field Gleaning Intern Michelle Madeley This summer, I interned with the Field Gleaning Program at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. I helped out as a field supervisor once a week and spent additional time developing training materials. As a graduate student interested in access to healthy foods, working with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle was an incredible experience in learning about non-profit solutions to systemic societal issues like hunger in the U.S.
Gleaning addresses the twin problems of food insecurity and food waste by working with local farmers who have additional crops (due to extra planting, experimentation, crops being ready too early, or crops not looking "market-ready" but still being nutritious and delicious). IFFS brings crews of volunteers out to the fields that farmers donate and we harvest various crops, always working to fill the truck to the brim!
In one instance, the farmer even drove up on a tractor, disc attached, just as we were wrapping up. He asked if we got all that we needed, and I told him that we were indeed done and thankful for all that he contributed! He said, "Great. I'm going to disc up that field now." By the time we were all packed up, he was already getting started tilling in the onion field from which we had just harvested hundreds of pounds of quality onions. So, it was quite a literal example of gleaning healthy, viable food, that would have otherwise gone to waste (or into the soil) if we had not been there!
Beyond the sheer volume of fresh, healthy food we helped redistribute, I was most excited about the community I felt a part of. The people I met and worked with made the experience of interning with the Food Shuttle so rewarding. I will definitely take these memories and lessons with me, and come back to volunteer with the Food Shuttle as often as possible.
Some of the highlights:
Befriending volunteers.It was especially cool to get to know new people from all age groups. I got to work with groups of middle school volunteers from mission groups, families with kids of all ages, retirees, as well as peers. I feel lucky to have met so many great people!
The big laughs and friendly conversations. I'm way into laughing, and every Tuesday that I was out in the field, there were a lot of serious and silly conversations that generated belly laughs resonating across the rows of collard greens or squash plants.
The team spirit. Every Tuesday, I helped facilitate a gleaning in a new field, with a different crop, and a totally new group of people. We always had the same set of tools, but with the different variables, we approached the fields differently each week. Sometimes, people would pair up and discover more efficient harvesting and loading techniques. Sometimes, people would volunteer to rotate loading and harvesting. People helped remind each other about which row they had been harvesting corn from, or offered to carry heavy buckets. There was always a real sense of teamwork and with that comes new and creative problem-solving.
And even the inevitable challenges. I found myself saying, "Every week there is an adventure" because it was true! We got stuck in the mud! We couldn't figure out how to fill the truck with diesel! We couldn't find the field! We didn't bring the right equipment! We found ourselves in fields that had been flooded and found every step we would sink into mud! As I think about these obstacles, I consider them all reminders about flexibility and adaptability. In the end, none of these challenges stopped us or even really slowed us down. We asked for help or we made do with what we had. It's a great testament to the spirit of volunteers and a can-do attitude. Thanks for everything Michelle! We’re excited to see where your journey will take you next. Come back any time!