Summer is drawing to a close. Kids are returning to school, beach crowds are thinning, and manatees are migrating back to the Florida coast (don’t worry, this manatee is staying in sunny SoCal). For farmers, however, the end of summer signifies the start of their major harvest. Farming has evolved rapidly over the past 150 years from small, individually-owned plots to the vast factory farms we know today. Work that used to take weeks now takes days thanks to technology. But harvesting machines aren’t able to get all of the usable food out of the field; some crops must be picked by hand. That’s where we come in!
Hand-picking crops from fields after the original harvest is known as gleaning. The practice has been around almost as long as agriculture itself; in fact, many scholars consider it the original form of social welfare. Many organizations carry on the practice today, gathering what they can from helpful farmers fields and donating their harvest to those in need. A local partnership between two nonprofits, Giving Children Hope and Loaves and Fishes X 10, organizes Saturday morning gleaning projects to help support their “We’ve Got Your Back” program. Giving Children Hope’s website states that the program:
….has provided food and nutrition education for children and families in need. Each child in the program receives enough food for three to four family members throughout the weekend. Because these students do not have access to the free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs over the weekend, this sustainable food source ensures that they always receive the nutrition they need. Due to the stigma attached to homelessness, the program is presented as a Weekend Nutrition Club where students can learn about proper nutrition and earn prizes by demonstrating knowledge of healthful eating habits while building self-esteem.
We arrived at the OC Great Park at 8am, temperatures already in the 80’s. After signing waivers and receiving a quick instruction, we carpooled over to the fields. The menu: tomatoes, strawberries, and watermelons! We formed teams, grabbed crates, and got to work. There were enough cherry tomatoes to keep our group busy for a while, but soon we’d picked all the ripe fruit we could find.
The tomato brigade walked over to the watermelon rows where Robert entrusted us with machetes! Well, machete might be overstating it…but they were definitely knives. We searched for and pulled basketball-sized watermelons from the field and loaded them into the truck.
Meanwhile, TweeterDeeter and friends were in the strawberry field working away. I heard rumors of a rotten fruit fight and went to investigate! Much to my dismay, order had resumed by the time I arrived so I snapped a few photos and washed the sticky watermelon juice from my hands. When all was said and done, we had picked countless pounds of food for our friends at Giving Children Hope to distribute. Gleaning certainly is hard work, but after literally seeing the fruits of our labor, it was all worth it.