8 Sparks of Light: Todd Kaplan, Boston Area Gleaners

Throughout Chanukah, we’re sharing our “8 sparks of light” providing inspiration and insight into the diversity of people working on a local level for a more transparent and just food system.


Todd Kaplan lives in Somerville and volunteers with the Boston Area Gleaners. Learn how his experiences inform his drive to give his time and energy to feed others.

How would you describe your involvement in the current “Jewish food movement?” Does this phrase resonate with you? If not, how might you describe what is happening in the current realm of Jewish food in greater Boston?
Jewish religious practice is very home-based and especially at the family table with the sharing food with family, friends and particularly “strangers” or others that don’t fit the first two categories.

While I grew up not very religious at all, I particularly remember large Passover seders, perhaps the most popular and open Jewish home-based religious ceremony of all. This is the root of my deep need to share food–and especially good food–with others.

So, while the Jewish food movement may be new in terms of awareness of values related to food, for me the most basic value of ensuring that all have good food is an old AND new value.

Do you remember the moment when you started learning about our food system? When and why did you first take action?
When I lived in Washington, DC in my early twenties, I started volunteering at a very basic soup kitchen and feeding program for homeless (mostly) men. We fed over 200 people each day. We had to find and cook the food. It was a lot of work but also educated me in the enormous amount of food waste especially in our very inefficient food distribution system.

What Jewish values underlie this work for you?
For me, that we were strangers in Egypt, enslaved and commanded to remember this, is central. How do we remember this time? Only by remembering those that are in our midst that have less. For me, providing good food and nutrition to others in need is central.

Why are you involved in Ganei Beantown vs. local garden club, cultural, or farm organization? 
Ganei Beantown gives me the opportunity to gather with others with shared values, learn from, and encourage each other. I’ve learned so much and I’ve been exposed to a much broader experience than I ever would on my own.

How did you first get involved in Ganei Beantown?
Over three years ago, I heard about a day of learning and wanted to connect with others in the Jewish community, share with them what I was doing, and learn from them, too.

What advice do you give to others looking to be involved?
I volunteer with the Boston Area Gleaners which organizes trips to local farms to harvest surplus produce from local farms and distributes the food to local feeding programs. It feels good to pick such healthy food knowing that in short time it will be a part of someone’s healthy meal. I encourage others to try this! It is easy to sign up and try out once or as often as you like. Most of the trips are about three hours long and are as close as Concord and Sharon and, at the most, an one-hour drive from Boston. It feels good to get out to the country and work with my hands too! You can learn more at Boston Area Gleaners.

If you find Todd’s story as inspiring as we do, please consider an end of year donation.

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