July Featured Community Partner – Community Harvest of Central Vermont

In the past five years, Community Harvest of Central Vermont (CHCV), our Featured Community Partner for July, has donated 175,800 pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to waste. This program, run by Executive Director Allison Levin, provides gleanings to community members who might not otherwise have access to healthy, fresh, local food. Last year, the organization delivered gleaned food to 9,000 residents of Central Vermont.

CHCV accomplishes this through an impressive web of collaborations, working alongside farmers, recipient organizations, and the dedicated, passionate volunteers who do a lot of the on-the-ground and in-the-dirt work of gleaning.  We spoke with three of CHCV’s volunteers, Jim and Susie Turner, who have been volunteering for about two years, and Cary Friberg, now going into her fourth year of volunteering. Below are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Were you looking to do this kind of thing when you started?

Susie

I have known about gleaning forever. My grandparents always had the beautiful print of the painting “The Gleaners.” Also, I really dislike waste, so I wanted to be able to get out and do something that was going to help fulfill that need as well.

Cary

To me, this opportunity offered me a chance to do something physical, as opposed to interpersonal, which is what my other volunteer work was. This is interpersonal too, of course, which is great, but it has the added component of getting down in the dirt, using your muscles, and ending up hurting at the end of the day, for a good reason.

For those who don’t know, what is gleaning? What is the physical activity you’re doing?

Cary

There are several, but the main one is in the fields, getting down on your hands and knees, or bending over, depending on how your knees work, and harvesting the crops, whatever the crop may be. That takes a long time, it’s slow, steady work. After an hour or so, you feel like that’s almost enough, and you think of the farm workers who work fourteen or sixteen hour days, and you think ‘wow, this is hard.’

Does it give you a greater appreciation of farmers and farming?

Jim

Susie’s brother is a dairyman, and when they first moved to Vermont and got started farming, we got very involved in helping them get going. We did a lot of haying and feeding the cattle, things like that, so we had a sort of preview of that sort of thing. With CHCV, we grew to appreciate even more the kind of non-stop effort it takes to put produce on our tables.

Is there a farm that has become a favorite or a place you love to visit? Have you developed a connection to the farms through your work?

Susie

One of the things I love about gleaning and being involved with this organization is the fact that, even by its name, Community Harvest, it creates and nurtures a sense of community that is much broader than in many other interests. It connects us back to the rural environment; it connects us to the farmers, and the recipients. That is community. It’s good for the farmers, and it’s good for the recipients. Sometimes we even get to interact with the people who are receiving the food and eating it. I enjoy the fact that we are not separate communities.

Cary

Allison is the one who nurtures each of those relationships. She is the most diplomatic ambassador you could hope for and we kind of get pulled along on her coattails, which is great, because she’s already set the tone and set the stage for us to walk in and be successful. She does just a fantastic job.

Susie

She does a fantastic job for the farmers, making everything right for them. She is so considerate of what they need or what they can’t do, but she’s also that considerate to us. She is extremely accommodating. For anyone who has a limitation, she figures out, ‘you can’t do this, but how about this?’ She is also that considerate to the recipients.

As a volunteer, she makes it a really positive experience?

All three

Yes!

Cary

And we are constantly learning.

What are some things you’ve learned?

Cary

Most recently for me was she asked me to write the fundraising letter this year. I had never done that before, so that was a learning experience to be the author of that letter. When we are out there gleaning with her, she is constantly full of information about a vegetable and what you can do with it and what she does with it. Then someone else will pipe up and say, ‘I’m going to try doing this with it.’ Those conversations are really fun.

Did you all have experience with or exposure to some of the recipient organization before becoming a volunteer?

Jim

I had done some work with the Foodbank and with Good Samaritan.

Cary

A little bit, with Another Way, I knew a little bit about them before I started delivering to them. FEAST at the Montpelier Senior Center, I knew a little bit about them. As you deliver to them week after week, you do get to know some of the clients or recipients as well as some of the people who work there, and you develop relationships with all of those people. They are happy to see you, they come out to the truck and help to unload, which I really appreciate.

How much do you get to observe the impact of the work you’re doing directly?

Susie

The time that I think Jim and I feel it is when we’re delivering. Going to the Senior Center in Waitsfield, when we went in with our first big bags of corn, people were sitting at the tables and were like, ‘We love everything you bring. This is wonderful!’ That is the other thing that I like about the sense of community, I think a lot of people who are food insecure, sometimes they feel separate from the rest of us. I think it’s good for them to know that not only do we care, but we consider them a part of our community. I think it closes a gap there that is often left a little open. Not that no one cares, but this is a way to make it happen.

Has this work changed your perception of food insecurity in our area?

Susie

I think so.

Cary

It’s brought it forward, brought it into focus.

Susie

I think I always felt the food insecure were really destitute, but they are not. They are people like you and I who have run into a hard time somewhere along the way and need that lift. They need to not have to worry about their food security, so to speak. If they are not worried about that, maybe they are able to get back into a situation they are more comfortable with.  I love that feeling of being able to help them.

Cary

I think it’s given me a good feeling to know that we are sharing quality food with people who need it and not giving them junk. We’re giving them food that’s good for them, that will help make them healthier.

Is there a favorite item among the recipients?

Susie

Blueberries are a big one.

Jim

I think that’s at the top of the list.

Has this work made you more aware of food waste or changed your perception of food waste?

Cary and Jim

Oh yeah.

Cary

We are really careful out there in fields to make sure we don’t leave anything behind.

Susie

And then we re-glean when we get it back to the cooler. We would rather take more and have to cull it out.

Was it surprising? Just how much is out there to be gleaned?

All three

Yes.

Cary

It took me a while to understand that. Why do farmers plant so much, you know? Why do they have all this stuff left over?

Why do they?

Cary

Well, they are not sure how it’s going to grow, they’re not sure how much they need, they don’t have their contracts quite in place with their recipients. They’re not sure whether they need an acre or two of this or that, so they plant.

Jim

And weather plays a big part in that.

Cary

Sometimes it’s beneficial, and sometimes it’s not.

Jim

Sometimes they time the market wrong, and they are delivering a truckload of kale when every other farmer is delivering a truckload of kale and all of sudden it’s not useful. They invested in harvesting it and have to find another place to put it.

Cary

It’s all about timing. Sometimes, we get to a farm, and they need that space to start something new tomorrow.

Jim

It saves them some effort.

Cary

As we walk away, we thank them, and they thank us. It’s this wonderful thing.

It’s a situation where everybody wins, the farmers, the recipients, the clients of the recipients.

Jim

Yes

Cary

It’s an amazing, feel-good thing.

Do you have a favorite moment from your volunteering?

Jim

Susie and I were delivering to Capstone, and we had put all the stuff on the dock and were driving away. I looked in the rearview mirror, and some young guy working there walked up and saw all the stuff, and he raised his arms and shouted ‘Yes!’ It was not to us; it was an unguarded moment. I get goosebumps thinking about it; it was so cool

Cary

I think maybe just those moments after an epic glean where you are bone dead tired and really dirty, and the truck is so full you can’t fit one more thing in it. You know it’s a moment. I think those are cool, and you really walk away proud and pleased. You know you’ve been part of something that is going to have a lot of ripple effects.


Gleaning Workshops: You can learn more about gleaning and the work of Community Harvest of Central Vermont at two of our July workshops. Allison will be part of a gleaning-focused tour of Ananda Gardens on July 9, then she will be here at the Co-op presenting Gleaning and Our View of Food on July 17. Find more information about those workshops and how to register here.