written by Green Mountain United Way Volunteer Writer Robert Barossi
Volunteer Susie Turner has known about gleaning since childhood, when her grandparents had a print of a painting called “The Gleaners.” For her and other Community Harvest of Central Vermont (CHCV) volunteers, gleaning means spending time on farms, gathering surplus food from the fields after the farmers have completed their harvesting. This is often slow, steady work, on their hands and knees in the dirt, both a learning experience and a satisfying bit of physical labor with impactful end result.
In the past five years, CHCV has donated 175,800 pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to waste. This program, run by Executive Director Allison Levin, provides gleaned foods to community members who might not otherwise have access to healthy, fresh, local food. Last year, the organization delivered food to 9,000 residents of Central Vermont, and accomplished that through an impressive web of collaborations, working alongside farmers, recipient organizations, and the dedicated, passionate volunteers who do a lot of the on-the-ground and in-the-dirt work of gleaning. Susie and her husband, Jim, have been involved with the organization and its work for about two years.
“Susie’s brother is a dairyman, and when they first moved to Vermont and got started farming, we got very involved in helping them get going, so we had a preview of that sort of thing,” Jim notes. “With CHCV, we grew to appreciate even more the kind of non-stop effort it takes to put produce on our tables.”
“One of the things I love about gleaning and being involved with this organization is the fact that, even by its name, Community Harvest, it creates and nurtures a sense of community that is much broader than in many other interests. It connects us back to the rural environment, it connects us to the farmers, and it connects us to the recipients. It’s good for the farmers, and it’s good for the recipients. That is community,” says Susie.
Their work has also provided them a chance to directly observe the impact they’ve having. “The time that I think Jim and I feel it is when we’re delivering,” she says. “Going to the Senior Center in Waitsfield, when we went in with our first big bags of corn, people were sitting at the tables and were like, ‘We love everything you bring. This is wonderful!’ That is the other thing that I like about the sense of community, I think a lot of people who are food insecure, sometimes they feel separate from the rest of us. I think it’s good for them to know that not only do we care, but we consider them a part of our community. I think it closes a gap there that is often left a little open. Not that no one cares, but this is a way to make it happen.”
Susie adds that this work has actually changed her perception of issues of food and food insecurity in our region, noting, “I think I always felt the food insecure were really destitute, but they are not. They are people like you and I who have run into a hard time somewhere along the way and need that lift. They need to not have to worry about their food security, so to speak. If they are not worried about that, maybe they are able to get back into a situation they are more comfortable with. I love that feeling of being able to help them.”
CHCV’s work is a win for everyone involved, the farmers, the recipients, and the clients of those recipients, who receive the food gleaned by these volunteers and many others like them. Jim recalls one special moment that he considers among his favorites. “Susie and I were delivering to Capstone, and we had put all the stuff on the dock and were driving away. I looked in the rearview mirror, and some young guy working there walked up and saw all the stuff, and he raised his arms and shouted ‘Yes!’ It was not to us; it was an unguarded moment. I get goosebumps thinking about it; it was so cool.”