On a sunny November morning, eight volunteers harvested more than 3,000 pounds of fresh butternut and acorn squash at Waterman’s Family Farm for Indianapolis food pantry patrons. The Glean Team has held 14 events yielding over 10,000 pounds of donated produce during this inaugural year. Fruits and vegetables donated included squashes, tomatoes, leafy greens, sweet and spicy peppers, eggplant, apples, radishes, beets, turnips and sweet corn.
The Indy Hunger Network’s Melanie Peters, an AmeriCorps VISTA, formed the team to improve food security and healthy food access for Indianapolis residents. She saw the opportunity as an exciting “area in which we could make a real change.” The Glean Team fills a niche providing fresh produce—otherwise left to fallow in the fields—directly from farms free of charge to families in need.
Gleaners have consisted of 35 unique volunteers range in age of 18 to 80 years. Some gleaners view harvesting as an extension of food pantry volunteerism. Some are retired, others in career transition. All are passionate about food rescue, are committed to local farming or desire to improve the health and diets of vulnerable populations.
Whitney Fields is an AmeriCorps VISTA Food Justice Cultivator with the Presbyterian Hunger Program. She prefers pulling up her sleeves on a farm and collaborating with community organizations. Being with The Glean Team means Whitney gets “back to the earth. I’m out from behind a desk. I’m helping harvest quality produce that would otherwise go to waste to people who need it most.”
According to Glean Team organizer Tracey Horan, groups have consisted of mere teams of two on weekdays up to 20 volunteers apple picking on a Saturday at Tuttle Orchards. Many Central Indiana farms and community gardens have contributed to the success including Cottage Home Community Garden, Felege Hiywot Center, Growing Places Indy and Feel Good Farm. “We could not do what we do without the number of supporters who bring their trucks or keep coming back to harvest,” says Melanie.
Thousands of patrons at twelve local food pantries, food banks and community centers including St. Vincent de Paul Boulevard Place Food Pantry and Old Bethel Food Pantry have reaped the benefits of abundant harvests this year. Even the animals at the Indianapolis Zoo have partaken in some of the organic scraps.