Former Backyard Harvest Director, Gail McNichols, and her story about GleanSLO
My involvement with GleanSLO began by sharing an idea. That is really what GleanSLO is centered on; the idea of sharing which is so simple. I started with a group of friends gleaning in the North County in 2007. We started a small non-profit we called Bountiful Gardens, collecting and distributing excess fruit and produce grown by backyard gardeners. We donated the produce to agencies that provided food to people, cooked meals for people, and gave to folks that were referred to us by concerned neighbors. It evolved into Backyard Harvest which was a National Organization gleaning in communities and sharing that idea of using produce that would otherwise be wasted. After several years of essentially full time work harvesting and connecting people and food, our organization needed to take a breather. Shortly after, I was approached by Carolyn Eicher, from San Luis Obispo. Carolyn was so enthusiastic and thoughtful and had similar ideas she wanted to create in San Luis Obispo. We both shared ideas about improving fresh produce availability within the County’s Food Bank, using food that would otherwise be wasted, incorporating more fresh produce into food programs and helping to establish a community of volunteers who would like to share in that process. Carolyn’s group of volunteers picked up the organization transforming what started as Backyard Harvest into GleanSLO. My part was really as a seed of an idea that was shared, and nurtured by others to create GleanSLO.
My time working with gleaning was rewarding on many levels. I loved the simplicity of going to people’s homes or farms, collecting produce and seeing how that gesture could make a huge difference. People were so generous and kind. I loved the older folks who had wonderful fruit trees they could no longer harvest by themselves. Some people have real relationships with their gardens and trees, and wanted to share stories of special times when a fruit tree was planted to commemorate a special occasion in their life. Some needed assistance doing the physical labor but wanted to share what they had with others. I had the opportunity to meet wonderful people in my community, and be touched by so many acts of kindness and quiet generosity.
I am currently gleaning at the Templeton Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. My family gleans with me. When we first started gleaning the vendors weren’t quite sure what we were about, but as we began to let people know the donated produce went directly to the Food Bank, and used by the Senior Nutrition Program, as well as many organizations feeding people directly, they began to generously share with us. It is a bit humbling to walk around and ask the farmers and vendors if they would like a box for the Food Bank. Often I will be told “No, I have nothing to give,” but those are the folks that invariably leave me the biggest box of beautiful produce. The generosity is amazing. Now even when I am not gleaning the vendors will say “Hey don’t forget me, I have a box for you!” I love that it has been contagious. Vendors thank me for doing the work and so I feel part of something bigger and know that all these people sharing make a difference. The few hours I spend now is part of a team effort. I think everyone participating enjoys it. It just feels good to do good; the simple act of sharing.
Sometimes as we work behind the scenes, coordinating all the logistics to make a glean a success, it is easy to get bogged down in the details — securing a truck, choosing a day and time that works with everyone’s schedules, getting the right equipment, bins, crates, harvest bags, pole pickers, ladders or clippers. But all that work pays off when people show up and offer their time to volunteer with us.
Over the past few years since GleanSLO began and has grown, volunteers are now getting to know each other as many have been on numerous gleans, helping out in an orchard, collecting extra produce at the farmers’ markets, or working at some of our events. At many harvests we have people who’ve never gleaned before alongside the experienced pro and weekly gleaners. We love this as it’s easy just to show up and someone will teach you what to do! This morning was our first blueberry glean and we learned from the farmers how best to pick. One of our gleaners picked blueberries each summer for many years and when looking at her bounty, there was not a leaf or a stem in her bucket!
One of the most rewarding aspects for me as a coordinator of this program is when I go over the photos to share on Facebook, post here on the blog, send out as a thank you, and I see the smiles that we’ve captured from that day’s experience. We are helping build and form community, which is what we always dreamed would happen when a small group of us gathered together in 2010, sharing lunches, brainstorming and visioning what this gleaning operation might become.
Here we are, over 230,000 pounds later, from that original 100 pounds when we started, and this is much of what we hoped for, and more. There are so many people to thank, so many who have contributed hours and hours for this purpose and for this vision. We’d like to make sure through our interview series that we continue to highlight some of these individuals and make sure we publicly thank them.
-Carolyn Eicher, GleanSLO Program Manager
GleanSLO Program Coordinators Jeanine and Carolyn are pictured here with the group of attendees from last weekend’s state-wide gleaning/harvesting conference sponsored by Village Harvest in San Jose. There were over 50 participants representing 25 different gleaning organizations.
Salem Harvest board member, Dick Yates, who built and designed GleanSLO’s website and online registration system, flew down to attend this conference. Carolyn and Jeanine were able to meet him and thank him in person for all the time he devoted to GleanSLO over many, many months!! GleanSLO would not have been able to grow at this rate without his dedication, knowledge, and patience!
It was an amazing experience to be around so many people with similar interests, challenges, and passion, and to continue developing a gleaning network.
Please join us Friday, June 7th, 2013, between 7 am – 7 pm in downtown San Luis Obispo where we’ll be collecting donations from passersby to help fund our GleanSLO Program! Sign up on our website to volunteer: http://gleanslo.org/harvestlist.php, or just show up to donate and place $1 or more in our donation boxes. We look forward to seeing you!
Pictured below is former GleanSLO coordinator, Caroline Ginsberg, who worked tirelessly to help get GleanSLO off the ground! Thank you, Caroline!