Merriam-Webster defines gleaning as an intransitive verb, “to gather grain or other produce left by reapers.” Sierra Harvest defines gleaners as “heroes.”
In just two seasons, our gleaning volunteer Harvest Leaders and volunteers have harvested over 32,587 pounds of fresh produce that in turn was donated to Interfaith Food Ministries (IFM) to aid over 8,000 clients in their food security.
One of the eight volunteer Harvest Leaders includes Clif Mackinlay, who says he began gleaning independently decades ago while living in the Bay area and quickly became involved in harvesting produce after moving to Nevada County. The Sierra Harvest program helps him contribute to the community while reducing food waste. “I thought, I could do some public good. There are a lot of people who love good fruit and I know the land can be so productive in this area, so I started doing it and just kept going.” Clif added he had lots of contacts who would call him, or he would reach out to them and once harvest season begins, he gets busy.
Clif said in addition to the satisfaction of helping others, he enjoys being out in nature. “I like the physical activity, but I get into a fruit tree and plan out how I am going to pick it and then my mind focuses on doing that. It’s very quiet out there. I am out in nature. Just like a fisherman gets his high, I get the high of picking fruit trees. I complete the task the best I can. It’s not about getting every piece of fruit, but it’s fulfilling the agreement.”
Fellow Harvest Leader, Tina Hannon, was involved in a gleaning group in Sonoma County and after moving here three years ago looked for another group to work with. She says she is motivated to glean because she does not like waste. “I do it because it’s a value for me to do what I can to avoid waste and food waste to me… if I can do anything to prevent it, I will. There is just so much. Once you have had the experience of gleaning, you get a whole appreciation of how much a tree will produce; how far that can go to feed people and the breakdown just seemed to be with connecting the people who have the trees in their backyard to the people who need the fruit.”
She said she appreciates Sierra Harvests infrastructure and organization. Hosts, or tree owners, contact Sierra Harvest who send an email to the volunteer Harvest Leader who then to set up a day and time that works for the homeowner. The Harvest Leader may drive by to determine access, how much there is and how many volunteers are needed. Once the produce is collected, the team weighs and records the load and delivers it directly to the IFM refrigerators for distribution.
Phil Alonso has been Executive Director at Interfaith Food Ministry for just two years. He says when he was approached by Sierra Harvest about the gleaning program, it was easy to say yes. “It was a natural fit. It is a great benefit to our clients.” He added, “Sierra Harvest makes it very easy and did not add to the workload.” IFM is a food pantry, distributing food to clients three times a week. With the produce donated by Sierra Harvest they can supplement nonperishable food with fresh fruits and vegetables. “A lot of our clients are requesting education about how to use the produce so in addition to access, they are learning how to eat new foods and getting information on them.”
Laurie Michel, another Harvest Leader said the rewards, like the produce, are plentiful. “I love volunteering for Sierra Harvest as a Harvest Leader. I have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people and visit different beautiful orchards and properties in our area, all while giving back to my community. Being a part of this wonderful group, with so much support from Sierra Harvest, and seeing how it directly impacts the lives of the clients of Inter Faith Food Ministry has been so rewarding.”
Hannon added, “It’s great and so much fun. We need more Harvest Leader. Nevada County has a short growing season, and everything gets ripe at once. Please accept our regret if we didn’t get to you, it’s not from a lack of interest but from a lack of bodies, and we hope to do better next year!
Sierra Harvest is extremely grateful to all of the following 2019 volunteer Harvest Leaders for their commitment of time, passion to reduce food waste and increase fresh food access to IFM clients: Matia Divitt, Hiroko Greenberg, Lisa Haden, Tina Hannon, Clif Mackinlay, Laurie Michel, Anna Mudd and Nicole Stevenson.
More information about the gleaning program, to sign up as a volunteer gleaner, register to have your fruit gleaned or become a Harvest Leader in 2020 go to: http://www.sierraharvest.org/gleaning/