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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Boston Area Gleaners Leave No Crop Behind

Jun 30, 2015 05:55PM ● By Nancy Somera

More than 350,000 people in eastern Massachusetts access the emergency food system, and each of them requires five servings of fresh produce per day. Boston Area Gleaners (BAG), located in Waltham, works closely with local farmers, providing volunteer labor to harvest what would otherwise be plowed under, to deliver high quality, local produce to pantries and meal programs.

Executive Director Laurie “Duck” Caldwell says, “When food budgets are affected, health often declines” making gleaning a valuable and healthy food source for the community. She notes that gleaning practices differ based on geographical location, and in eastern Massachusetts where more than 1,200 small farms are operated, the practice of gleaning is mostly a reactive one, meaning that farmers call BAG and give them a short window of time, usually 48 hours, to bring volunteers to harvest their unneeded crops.

Caldwell admits that the concept of gleaning is a simple one—gathering surplus on farms and delivering to food pantries—but incredibly complex to implement. In order to create a reliable supply chain, BAG must function as equal parts wholesale distributor, trucking company and mobile harvest crew comprised of registered volunteers. She says they are working hard to grow the infrastructure of the nonprofit organization so they can continue to increase the amount of food gleaned each year.

“With the number of farms in the region, we could be 25 times bigger,” maintains Caldwell. This requires additional resources, mainly financial support. A majority of BAG’s income is individually based via donations and attendance at events. Grants, donated goods and services, earned income and corporate gifts make up the remainder of BAG’s earnings. In order to grow as an organization, Caldwell says it needs more long-term funders to invest in the concept of gleaning. They hope to secure funding partners within each county as well as build a stronger individual donor base within each community.

The gleaning season is mainly June through December, with additional gleaning of root and stored crops during the winter months. BAG gleans every day of the week, including weekends, and trips are usually in the morning in the summer and in the afternoons in the fall. Most trips last two to three hours in the field, not including travel time to and from the farm. Trips are posted as requests come in from farmers and registered volunteers sign up on a first come, first serve basis. All gleaning trips are staff supervised and volunteers are trained on site.

To donate, volunteer or help raise funds for Boston Area Gleaners at the Three Squares New England Ride for Food on September 20, visit