A group of about 15 volunteers gather at the edge of the peach orchard just past the farmstand parking lot of Morning Glory Farm. Some stomp their feet to ward off the early morning chill. Jamie O’Gorman hands one volunteer a T-shirt.
“This is your tenth gleaning!” Ms. O’Gorman says. The group claps and the volunteer smiles and stretches the shirt out in front of her.
“It’s humbling to see volunteers who come week after week,” Ms. O’Gorman says. “They come because they care about people and don’t want to see food go to waste.”
Ms. O’Gorman coordinates Island Grown Gleaning, a program of the Island Grown Initiative. The program gathers free produce that farmers can’t harvest and distributes it to Island organizations in need. The model requires collaboration between Island farmers, the gleaning crew and the organizations that receive the produce.
Simon Athearn, chief of operations at Morning Glory Farm, chats with Ms. O’Gorman about the plan for the morning. There’s not much standing around. Once Mr. Athearn has briefed the crew, they split up and half head to the cornfield while the other half focuses on bok choy.
Kevin Brennan, the Island Grown Gleaning program assistant, leads the group to the cornfield. Mr. Athearn shows everyone which rows to pick from and people start in right away, filling bags with ears of corn.
One of the volunteers shouts out, “You have to taste your product, right?”
Marjorie Pierce has been volunteering with Island Grown Gleaning for four or five years. She says that this has been a great season for gleaning, with abundant crops of beans, peppers and summer squash. Ms. Pierce also helps preserve and store produce. She’s going to freeze some of the corn harvest for the community suppers held at the First Congregational Church beginning in January.
“Gleaning is an amazing opportunity to utilize what’s here and get it to the people who really need it,” Ms. Pierce says.
Over 20 organizations receive fresh Island produce through Island Grown Gleaning. Produce goes to the Councils on Aging, Island Elderly Housing, Wampanoag Tribal Housing, Daybreak Clubhouse, New Paths, Community Services Childcare, Island Food Pantry, Serving Hands, Morgan Woods, Dukes County Jail, the First Congregational Church in West Tisbury and Vineyard House. Gleaners also deliver produce to every Island school.
Behind the Morning Glory farmstand, a windmill towers over a bed of bok choy. A handful of people crouch between the plants, harvesting football-sized heads of leafy, farmers’ market-worthy vegetables.
Ms. O’Gorman remembers the Tisbury School cafeteria director exclaiming that the kids love the bok choy. “To many people bok choy is kind of an exotic vegetable,” Ms. O’Gorman says. “I thought they must have been putting it in a stir fry with lots of other good stuff to get the kids to like it.”
But no, at the Tisbury School cafeteria kids were munching on bok choy that was just steamed and seasoned with a little butter and salt. Ms. O’Gorman believes this speaks to the quality of the vegetables grown by Island farmers. They’re so full of nutrients that they taste delicious just on their own.
So far in 2013, Island Grown Gleaning has distributed 18,000 pounds of produce grown at Morning Glory Farm, Whippoorwill Farm, Slip Away Farm, Tiasquam Orchard, North Tabor Farm, Wise Owl Farm, Martha’s Vineyard Organics and family fruit trees from the Norris and Starr families.
“I’m so grateful to the farmers,” Ms. O’Gorman says.
She recognizes that it’s not easy for the farmers to add an extra step to their already overloaded work day. They put a lot of faith in Ms. O’Gorman, Mr. Brennan and the volunteers. The farmers welcome them into their fields, let them walk among their plants and trust them to harvest the right crops in the right way.
For the volunteers, spending this time on a farm is one of the things they love about gleaning.
“I’m out here breathing good air,” says Debbie Dean, another longtime volunteer. “If I weren’t gleaning I wouldn’t have this opportunity to be in the fields. The vistas, they feed me.”
Ms. O’Gorman pauses with her hands on a bag of bok choy that she’s about to lift into the back of a pick-up truck. She points at the small field the group is harvesting from and explains that this field will be turned under this afternoon because the farmers are ready to plant a cover crop.
Explaining why she does this work, Ms. O’Gorman says, “I’m concerned about consumption, consumerism and waste in general. So many resources go into growing food — human resources, fossil fuels, water, so many. And there are people who, for many reasons, don’t have access to fresh vegetables.”
Island Grown Gleaning’s response to these two challenges means farmers share their land and their produce, the volunteers share their time and their labor, cooks share their talents, and well-fed people share their thanks.
Ms. Dean says it best, “To be able to share gives me a sense of abundance.”
Island Grown Gleaning is always looking for new volunteers. For more information about volunteering contact Jamie O’Gorman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-955-9284.