This post originally appeared at Food Riot.
I've recently discovered that if you tell people you're volunteering, especially if you have to wake up early to do it, you get some serious respect. Everybody assumes you're making a huge sacrifice for the greater good, and that you put strangers' needs ahead of your own convenience.
So don't tell anybody that my most recent "volunteer" activity was actually really fun, OK?
I went with the Boston Area Gleaners to Smolak Farms in North Andover to clean up the last of their peach crop.
Gleaning, if you didn't know, is a practice with thousands of years of history that involved going through a field after it's been harvested and picking up what's left over. Laws in the Old Testament of the Bible state that farmers pretty much have to let the poor glean their fields, and in some cases even leave portions of their crop unharvested for this purpose, in what seems to be an early version of paying taxes toward social benefits.
The Boston Area Gleaners is an organization that schedules trips to participating small farms and donates the produce- all kinds, varying with the season- to local food banks and soup kitchens. This time we were picking peaches, nature's fuzziest fruit.
Due to some mild mis-communication, we ended up in an orchard that wasn't quite done being harvested, and therefore the farmer wanted us to pick mostly "drops," or peaches that had fallen to the ground naturally. The Gleaners don't usually collect drops, since they've gotten flack from food banks in the past for bruised fruit, and drops tend to be close to spoiling or have imperfections, so we sort of compromised by picking from branches that were still on the tree, but broken and not going to be harvestable for long.
Even with the stipulations, it only took five of us about two hours to get nearly four hundred pounds of fruit from dozens of trees, with plenty left over for the volunteers to take home. My bagful consists of sweet, juicy yellow peaches, crisp white peaches, and even some tiny ones that are slightly more tart. Smoothies, cobbler, some sort of cake? I'm not sure yet what they'll turn into, but I'm pretty excited about it.
It was also just nice to get out of the city for a few hours and meet some new people who are into local food. I hadn't set foot on a farm in years, and I'd forgotten how much I like working outside. The quiet, the scenery, the time to clear your head and think about other things while your hands take over the task in front of them, and just soaking up the sun while you can before winter comes. The best part, though, is having something tangible to show when you're finished. Something that serves the most basic purpose.
Do other cities have organizations like this? Do you think there's a way to make this model work on a large scale?