Martha’s Vineyard residents in need are eating more locally-raised food than ever before, thanks to a network of Island farms, volunteers and social service agencies in the Island Grown Gleaning program.

Since 2009, when Island Grown Gleaning was founded as an offshoot of the Island Grown Initiative nonprofit, volunteers have harvested more than 200,000 pounds of food from Vineyard fields to share with their hungry neighbors. This year alone, from June to mid-September, the program has received more than 20,000 pounds of produce that was gleaned or simply donated by participating growers, said Alli Fish, who coordinates the gleaning and mobile market programs for Island Grown.

“None of this would be possible without the farms,” Ms. Fish said.

Morning Glory Farm, Slip Away Farm and Slough Farm in Edgartown, the Scottish Bakehouse farm in West Tisbury and Thimble Farm at the Island Grown Farm Hub in Vineyard Haven have all welcomed gleaners this year, Ms. Fish said.

Jackie Hokanson volunteers in the fields as part of Island Grown Gleaning. — Jeanna Shepard

“We might see some more (growers) come on with fall,” she said.

“We haven’t even hit some of the heavy-hitter fall crops that are coming in soon,” such as winter squash, potatoes, turnips and carrots, Ms. Fish added.

While the gleaning program is bringing in more food, Island hunger is on the rise as well. Economic fallout from the pandemic has led to higher demand for food assistance throughout the Island’s population, from schoolchildren to seniors, since early this year.

“Covid has increased the need substantially,” Ms. Fish said Tuesday morning, as she and about a dozen volunteers gathered to glean radishes, kale and mustard greens at Morning Glory Farm.

“This is where it all begins,” she said, surveying the field along Meshacket Road in Edgartown.

Each week, Ms. Fish checks with the farmers to see what crops are bountiful enough to afford a surplus for the community. Team captains then organize volunteers for gleaning, which usually takes place Monday, Tuesday or Thursday.

After sanitizing their hands with gel from dispensers located on the tailgate of a pickup truck, Tuesday’s gleaners picked up boxes and cutters supplied by Island Grown and got to work along the rows of crops. Some volunteers worked alone, to the sounds of clipping blades, the wind in the trees along the distant edge of the field and automobiles passing on Meshacket Road. Other gleaners chatted from a social-distance as they filled their boxes with braising greens or pastel-colored radishes.

“It’s a wonderful experience,” said Sheila Elliott of Oak Bluffs. “I’m not a gardener. I’m learning. So this is an opportunity for me to improve my skills.”

Sine 2009, gleaning program has harvested over 200,000 pounds of food. — Jeanna Shepard

“It’s a great crew of people to work with, and it’s not hard to understand why we’re doing it,” said Jonathan Baker of Oak Bluffs.

Janet Woodcock of Vineyard Haven has been gleaning since not long after the program started 11 years ago.

“It was very close to the beginning, when we were a little tiny group,” she said. “More people know about it now.”

Tuesday’s 90-minute glean netted more than 48 pounds of field greens and 90 pounds of radishes, Ms. Fish said.

Delivered by an Island Grown van, gleaned produce goes straight from the fields to waiting recipients such the Island Food Pantry and local senior centers. Rose Cogliano, administrator of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging, said fresh produce from the gleans is bagged up and distributed promptly.

This year alone the program has received over 20,000 pounds of produce. — Jeanna Shepard

“We have a network of senior volunteers who deliver the bagged items to seniors,” she said. Elders with more mobility will pick up their bags at the council on Wamsutta avenue. Both methods are contact-free, she added.

“I feel blessed that we are able to receive these gorgeous fruits and vegetables and distribute them to the community, to seniors and their families,” Ms. Cogliano said.

Serving seniors also means feeding other family members in their households, Ms. Cogliano said, citing a family in which three generations, including multiple children, share a home. The Oak Bluffs council also provides gleaned produce to Vineyard House, the sober living facility in Vineyard Haven, she said.

Meris Keating, director of senior services at the Anchors in Edgartown, said her clients used to select gleaned produce from a table during the Tuesday and Friday lunches served before the pandemic.

“As people were coming and going, they would take what they wanted,” she said. “It’s always a grab bag. People really liked it.”

The Anchors’ licensed commercial kitchen allows chef Diane Wall to use gleaned produce in prepared meals, now for pick-up or delivery instead of dining in. If seniors wish, they can also have produce as well.

“We’ve added people who just want gleaned vegetables,” Ms. Keating said, adding that the demand for both meals and produce has increased.

“I think we’ve served about 65 people upwards of 200 times with gleaning,” she said.

Anchors recipients occasionally find more than food in their bags, Ms. Keating added.

“Slip Away Farm gives us flowers sometimes, which is so nice to brighten somebody’s day,” she said.

To volunteer for a glean, visit