Jack: I used to be a physical education teacher in Arlington, VA, and taught for 3 years in elementary school where I realized kids had no idea where their food came from. I was working at a title 1 school where 80% of our kids were on free or reduced lunch - their concept of food was it was that it came from the grocery store. I started becoming interested in connecting kids and their families back to the land - back to food and growing food - and decided to go back to school. I got a masters degree in environmental education up in New Hampshire, and since then I’ve worked with Waltham Fields Community Farm, Mill City Grows and a few other non-profits in the area. I’ve grown this real interest and passion towards food rescue and how we all play a role within our food system, more specifically helping educate individuals, community members, and the general public on what is food waste and how do we prevent it. It’s been a journey!
SFB: Given your background working with kids, is this also a focus of the Gleaners’ work?
Jack: We have started to incorporate family gleans where we invite families to come out and help us. We’ve implemented 2 last year, and we had 2 and 3 year olds out there picking green beans and harvesting apples! It was fabulous. The parents and kids enjoy it, and it allows families to get out and experience farm life. I’ve also done a few elementary lessons at schools where I go in and teach kindergarteners about gleaning and what that means.
SFB: Can you provide an example of the pathway of the Gleaners’ rescued food?
Jack: We partner with farmers up and down eastern Massachusetts and all the way out towards Leominster. For example, we are partnering with the Autumn Hills Orchard out in Groton; their orchard manager will call us saying that they’ve already reached their quota on apples, and there are a bunch that they can’t get to. We then get a group of volunteers to meet us on the farm, and we’ll harvest for up to 3 hours per trip; hosting 2-3 trips per day and walking away with anywhere between 8 and 15+ thousand pounds of apples in one day. The apples are all harvested into large bins, which are then loaded onto our trucks, and either put into cold storage or brought back to our facility to be repacked into banana boxes. Once packed and palletized, they’re back onto the truck and delivered to the Greater Boston Food Bank, Rhode Island Food Bank, New Hampshire Food Bank, or are individually delivered or picked up by a local food pantry. We also partner with Food For Free and Daily Table. Last year we worked with 45 farms - in the past up to 80 - and currently work with about 25 individual hunger relief agencies. With our food bank network we’re reaching 750+ agencies overall.
Jack: It comes down to the consumers. The ideal of nature being perfected, where we demand a perfected piece of fruit to buy in a grocery store or find at a farmer’s market, is unrealistic. There are tons of food being left just because of looks or if there’s minor damage to it, but 90% of the crop is still good. I think it’s about changing the mindset of what we know as food, and our relationship with our food that we’re consuming each and every day.
SFB: Primarily what market do you service?
Jack: We work with farms with just a few acres and also large-scale farms - anywhere from 3-4 acres to 70 acres. Most are family-owned, generational farms that have been around for quite a while. Big crops for us are apples and butternut squash, but any crop that you can imagine growing here in Massachusetts we are harvesting. We have several partnerships with orchards, but most of the farms we work with are very diverse with their crops. We can be on a farm every week and we’re constantly getting something different.
SFB: What is your relationship with other local food rescue organizations?
Jack: We work closely with Daily Table and Food For Free. We also partner with Lovin’ Spoonfuls. It was great because two of their current employees used to work for us so we made that connection! They routinely pick up food, and have started as a small partner but we’re hoping to build with scale.
SFB: What is the most interesting creation you've seen (or made yourself!) from rescued food?
Jack: We work with Commonwealth Kitchen and they have produced apple sauce and tomato sauce, which is delicious and also a really good outlet for us. We also did an event with Mei Mei - the ability for Chef Irene to take rescued produce and turn it into something delicious really changes the mindset of how food should be cooked. We provided her with just 6-7 ingredients and she was able to transform that into an 8 course meal. She’s such an incredible, innovative entrepreneur and person in our city who is really trying to change the dynamics of what restaurants are built around, and creating a workforce that is appreciated and respected.
Jack: As an individual that has been out in the fields harvesting and helping distribute food, I’ve been lucky to witness some really rewarding interactions. When you’re delivering food on a Saturday morning at 7:30 in the morning and you see individuals already lining up with their carts even though the pantry doesn’t open until 11, you know they’re there because they want the first choice for the fresh produce that’s coming in. The people that we’re providing food to don’t have the accessibility or affordability to go out to the store and buy that nutrient-rich, locally sourced produce that’s a natural right for all of us, but unfortunately is not the case in all communities. It’s wonderful to see the joy and smiles on their faces when they see us show up with boxes of food, and they want to help us. They’re always peeking into the boxes excitedly, saying “Ooooh! There are peaches this week! Tomatoes!” It’s a good feeling when you know that you’re helping to change these individuals lives on a daily basis.
SFB: How would you like to see the Boston community more engaged in the food waste fight?
Jack: What Daily Table has implemented within the Dudley Square area is creating the ability and the resource to have a place where people can easily grab food to go: it’s a fresh, healthy choice, instead of going to your local bodega or fast food joint. I think we need more of this. One of our board members has opened up Neighborhood Produce in Somerville, a bodega serving fresh produce that’s based around what the community wants. It’s bringing individuals to the table - farmers, community members, and organizations - and figuring out not what people on the higher-level think should be done, but what actually needs to be done on the street level. It’s what people really need and want, and creates more of a resource to actually get that implemented. Farmer’s markets are great, but you still have to travel to those. I think we should invest in putting farmer’s markets and other resources within communities that don’t have them but could really benefit from them.
SFB: What are some upcoming plans for the Gleaners in 2019 that you’re excited about?
Jack: We’re taking part in the Walk for Hunger on May 5th, and we’re welcoming individuals to join our team. We’re also doing the Ride for Food in October this year. Currently we’re prepping for the season and getting our ducks in a row so when the farmers start calling in June we’re ready to go!
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