(G)lean on me: Feeding our Community with Dignity

By Sophia Alder

Did you know it was estimated that about 40% of US’s crops go uneaten each year (NRDC.org)? Farmers grow excess crops to account for unpredictability and are often left with a surplus, unable to afford the labor to donate the food themselves. That’s too much food that could go to those in need, especially since 1 in 7 households in the Massachusetts area are food-insecure (bostonareagleaners.org). Boston Area Gleaners decided to do something about this, bridging the gap between farms who have extra crops and organizations who distribute food to families in need. They rescued over one million pounds of food in 2019 alone!

Boston Area Gleaners relies on volunteers for many aspects of their operations. One main way is through their “gleaning trips”, where volunteers come out to harvest farms’ extra food. I recently went on my first gleaning trip and found it to be even more meaningful and fun than I expected: learning about different crops, meeting others with similar values, harvesting and boxing veggies, and feeling I made a difference with the 6,496 servings of fresh produce that we collected. The organization is careful during COVID, and multiple safety procedures were put in place to make sure we were safe (and having a good time)! There are also other ways to get involved with the initiative, including collecting banana boxes from your local supermarket (they rely on these for food collection) or of course making a donation to help the whole operation. 

Gleaning (leket in Hebrew) is a concept that is close to my heart, as it comes straight from the Torah and is a strong Jewish value that has been observed since the times of the bible. “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the Lord am your God” (Leviticus 23:22). Boston Area Gleaners (and organizations similar to them) take this concept from the Torah and bring it one step further, as they strive to distribute the food with dignity. Yes, they could say “if you need food, come to the farm yourself and get it!” but instead they recognize that people who are food-insecure deserve the same access and quality of food as anyone else. This became apparent to me on the trip when we only collected food that we felt could be seen in a market, not just good enough for “those struggling”. 

2020 has been a wild ride to say the least, from COVID and all its implication, to bushfires, to flash floods, to the election…there is so much that is not in our control. I find comfort in the things that I can control, including my small part in helping families access healthy, fresh, and top-quality food. This week I also had the marvelous opportunity to visit The Gann Farm, a Jewish community farm based at Gann Academy in Waltham. This “living laboratory for…earth-based Judaism” gave me hope that the next generation of Jewish people in Greater Boston are growing up to care about the earth in connection to their Jewish values, and making the world a better, more connected place through the things we grow. 

Sophia Adler is a fellow with Serve the Moment Corps and volunteers with Beantown Jewish Gardens. In her job as a Jewish educator, she is the Program Director for Diller Teen Fellows at JCC Greater Boston, where teens spend a year exploring leadership, Jewish Identity, and social justice. She is passionate about experiential education, sustainable living, and Jewish life.

י״ב במרחשון ה׳תשפ״א (October 30, 2020)