Glean Team and Organic Garden help fight hunger in community

Martina Pansze

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Photo by Marra Clay

Photo by Marra Clay

With boxes picked of deformed fruit and baskets of free vegetables, Whitman Glean Team and Organic Garden are doing their best to help the Walla Walla community’s food insecurity issues.

Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover produce from farmers after a harvest. The club picks (or “gleans”) the unwanted crops and transports them to the local community action agency Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC), who then delivers the crops to four Walla Walla food banks and another in Waitsburg.

The club doesn’t just pick excess crops, they also take those that aren’t sellable, usually fruits and vegetables that don’t look perfect but are still edible. In addition, the club makes rounds during closing time at the local farmer’s market to see if anybody is willing to donate their unsold crops.

This is the Glean Team’s first year as an official club. The team was started at the beginning of last year when a student who participated in the Food and Hunger Summer Community OutReach Excursion (SCORE) wanted to continue helping Walla Walla’s hungry.

Although the Glean Team is currently dependent on BMAC as a middleman between gleaning and delivery to the food banks, they are trying to get farmers to contact the club directly to invite gleaning, rather than going through BMAC twice.

And since the club usually uses members’ personal vehicles, capacity size can be a huge limiting factor in the amount of food gleaned. BMAC sometimes brings trucks to the larger gleaning projects so that more bins of food can be transported at one time.

Junior Riley Toher, budget manager of the Glean Team, thinks that the team’s role in the community is developing despite these challenges.

“We’re becoming more well known,” she said. “There’s a long way to go because a lot of farmers go to BMAC while we want them to come directly to us, but in the past two years, we’ve gleaned nearly 18,000 pounds of food, so we’re making huge progress.”

Emily James is the Public Outreach Specialist for BMAC and has been working with the Whitman Glean Team since February of 2014.

“The Glean Team’s work ensures that people facing food insecurity have access to highly nutritious food throughout the growing season,” she said in an email.

Gleaning is also limited by season. For the first few months of fall, the gleaning demand is high, but the crops usually wind down by the end of October and the spring season is not as active.

Although the optimal gleaning period is not very long, the club is working on finding other ways to keep interest during the seasonal downtime. For instance, the Glean Team is working on organizing a showing of the food documentary “A Place at the Table” (location and date to be determined).

In addition to providing students an easy channel for helping to fight the social issues of obesity and hunger, the Glean Team is a nice break from academics at Whitman.

“The Glean Team is a good way to get off campus and get involved,” said sophomore Caity Varian, Glean Team president.

James emphasizes that the positive effects of gleaning reach to all parts of the community.

“Gleaning is truly a productive practice, not only because it gets excess produce to those who need it, but because it offers the community a chance to effect positive change in our pervasive culture of waste,” she said.

The Organic Garden

The Organic Garden also reaches out to the community and offers free food to anybody willing to stop by in the summer when the crops are in full bloom. Summer is the best time for community members to pick up food because surplus is uncommon in the fall, when the majority of students return and crops die down.

Small signs in the dirt rows of vegetables show when crops are ready to be picked, and if you can spot something ripe, it’s free to be taken. Recently, fresh red tomatoes have been ready by the handfuls.

“We tell people to try to abide by the ‘help a little, take a little’ rule, although when it comes down to it, we want people to take the food,” said president of the Organic Garden senior Molly Streeter.

The garden is located on the corner of Pacific and Penrose, easily accessible to students in the area.

“It is right in the middle of a clump of off-campus houses, so it’s nice for those students to reap those benefits, like when you haven’t gone grocery shopping,” said Streeter.

The garden mostly grows vegetables, although there are also fruit trees. Among the foods grown are kale, spinach, tomatoes, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, bok choy and even kiwi berries.

The garden has a flexible schedule. Although students can stop by anytime to pick or plant crops, there is sanctioned time called “open garden” three times a week where Organic Garden leaders are there to answer questions and guide people. There are eight official leaders, and Streeter said usually 12-18 people show up for open garden.

Streeter has been involved with the garden all four years that she’s been a student and started without any expertise.

“When I was a freshman, a big group of us would walk to open garden from Anderson, and I knew nothing about gardening, but it was still such a great time. You don’t have to have experience to be involved,” she said.

Because it’s student run, if someone wants to give something a shot, the organic garden will plant it. The garden also hosts special events like potlucks.

Although the Glean Team and Organic Garden don’t have an official partnership, they hope to work together more in the future, and the leaders have discussed the possibility of  working out a way to send summer surplus to the Glean Team and BMAC.

Bon Appétit

Kaitlyn Giacolone works in Cafe 66 in the Reid Campus Center, and said that Bon Appétit tries to keep food sustainability in mind.

“[Our goal is] food service for a sustainable future,” she said.

According to Giacolone, this means most food is supposed to come from within 250 miles of Whitman, though she points out that foods from abroad such as pineapple and banana are also served.

Giacolone thinks as little food as possible should be thrown out, and she said many Bon Appétit employees feel similarly. They try to take home as much food as possible, especially items such as baked goods, salads and sandwiches.

“One of my jobs at the end of the night is to throw out the soup. I don’t want to throw it all out, so I tell people if they come in after eight to take soup for free,” she said.

In light of this effort, Giacolone does see room for improvement in terms of how food is disposed of.

“It would be really cool to have composting,” she said. “I’ve heard of a thing at other colleges where they have a designated area [for leftover parts of meals] which would really help us waste less food … [Bon Appétit] won’t make one because they think it’ll make us lose money, but I don’t think so.”

Get Involved:

Email president Caity Varian of the Glean Team to get on the listserve, or like the team’s Facebook page. BMAC can be contacted through their website (www.bmcaww.org) or Facebook page.

The open garden hours this year are Wednesdays from 4-6pm, Fridays from 3-5pm, and Saturdays from 3-5pm.

 

Photo by Marra Clay

A farmer sells produce at the Walla Walla Farmers Market. Photo by Marra Clay.

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