Farming is unpredictable. Sometimes you grow less food than you expected, and sometimes you grow more. As a farmer, what do you do when you can’t harvest everything that has been planted? That’s where Boston Area Gleaners comes in! The mission of Boston Area Gleaners, a non-profit organization based out of Waltham, MA, is to provide people in need with agricultural surplus that is donated by farmers in and around Boston. Surplus fruits and vegetables in farm fields often go unharvested because they were planted as bumper crops, or because the farmer either intentionally or unintentionally planted too many seeds, markets come to a close, or weather threatens to damage crops that cannot be harvested in time to save them.
Laurie “Duck” Caldwell, executive director of Boston Area Gleaners, has a background in workforce development and job training for economically vulnerable populations along with small business development for farms and produce markets. When she started volunteering for Boston Area Gleaners in 2009, she felt that it was a perfect intersection of her two former careers. Hired in January 2010, Duck now does everything from coordinating pickups and drop offs between farms, food pantries, and food distribution organizations, to organizing their over 600 gleaning volunteers. Currently Boston Area Gleaners works with 35 farms and, with the help of the distribution networks of Food For Free and The Greater Boston Food Bank, effectively distributes to over 100 pantries and meal programs. The organization plans to glean and deliver at least 60,000 pounds – over 2,000 bushels of fresh, local fruit and vegetables – in the 2013 harvest season.
Looking into the future, Duck hopes that Boston Area Gleaners can continue to increase food accessibility throughout the Greater Boston Area by increasing its network of farms and food providers. New England has such an abundant food shed, and the potential for helping small farmers and people in need of food is huge. Not only can Boston Area Gleaners help small businesses and feed people in need, they can also help educate people about eating local, and provide communities with a greater knowledge of their food and food system.