Blog by: Melissa Bonaccorso, Fall 2018 Food For All Student
In late October, a group of Food for All and UMass Permaculture members had the pleasure of gleaning sweet potatoes from Joe Cjakowski Farm in Amherst. Gleaning is the process of going to a farm and collecting produce that might not be high enough quality for the farmer to sell, but is still good enough to eat. Kayleigh Boucher, Courtney Spera, Braeden Leinhart, Melissa Bonaccorso, Dan Bensonoff, and his three-year-old son, Michi, teamed up to glean 500 lbs of sweet potatoes within two hours! The veggies were used to benefit local efforts to serve those in need, such as Not Bread Alone and the Food For All Farmer’s Market which was hosted on November 9th.
Despite rampant food insecurity in the United States, 30- 40% of food produced here is ultimately wasted. A good portion of this is produce that never even makes it to the grocery store and is simply left in the fields to rot. Often, this is due to the incredibly high standards we have about what our food should look like, which ultimately controls what is able to be sold. This can be partially attributed to how, collectively, our society experiences a tragic disconnect from our food.
As our gleaning operation kicked off, we were all immediately amazed at how much food we were able to collect. While it took some time to sift through crops that were on their way to retreating back into the soil, we were still able to retrieve a substantial amount of sweet potatoes from this field – many of which were funky fun shapes!
Upon committing to this project, I admittedly was reluctant to waking up early on a Saturday to do this work. But my attitude was quickly turned around by the brisk autumn morning air, the quiet of the open field surrounded by the sight of the last several colored leaves still clinging to their branches, the brilliant attitudes of my companions, and the satisfaction that always comes with starting the day bright and early. Perhaps the most uplifting out of all of us was three-year-old Michi. I always find children to be an inspiring presence, because of how they help us look at the world and everything in it as a fresh experience and every task as a game. Michi gleefully searched alongside us for salvageable potatoes, and excitedly squealed “I FOUND ONE!” every several minutes, sometimes holding up potatoes as big as his head. With Michi by our side, the energy in the field was positive, and gleaning became a much better way to spend a Saturday morning than sleeping in. Aside from the fun of the work itself, it was eye-opening to connect more directly with the concepts of food waste and food security, and to see hands-on how these two issues could be addressed simultaneously if we were to take large-scale collective action.
We are incredibly grateful to Joe Cjakowski Farm for allowing us to come and collect food for donations. It is inspiring to be surrounded by a farming community in the Pioneer Valley that is dedicated not only to providing the area with healthy food, but also to working collaboratively with the community at large and helping to combat food insecurity.