Interview questions and introduction by Emily “Willy” Wilson, interview responses Stephanie Teaford, GleanSLO founding member
With San Luis Obispo under shelter-at-home orders to quell the spread of the novel Coronavirus COVID-19, many grocery stores are limiting the number of shoppers inside stores at any given point, local restaurants and cafes are take-out only, and any non-essential businesses are ordered to cease operation until further notice.
For GleanSLO, this order means we’ve pressed pause on produce rescue for now, allowing our gleaners to adhere to social distancing guidelines. While what we do at GleanSLO feels immensely important, and arguably more important during difficult times like these, we recognize that these are special circumstances, and that continuing to move people throughout the county, and gathering people together for harvesting simply isn’t the most socially responsible thing to do right now. That being said, we also recognize that physical distance does not mean we cannot connect, communicate, and organize in the name of what we believe in. We can see so clearly the potential for growth during this time which so clearly highlights our country’s need for improved social safety nets, equitable access to essential resources and services, and a more connected, compassionate society in general. We can’t change what has already happened, but we can certainly use this as an opportunity to take note of what is most important to us, how we hope to change for the better, and how we can be a role model for other cities in the US.
We’re very excited to get back into the gleaning game as soon as it is deemed safe to do so, and until then we will be working on some behind-the-scenes projects, as well as bringing our community plenty of thoughts, ideas, and inspiration surrounding growing community and sharing the abundance. We hope to come out on the other side of this a stronger and more robust organization, invigorated with a renewed sense of purpose.
In the name of circling back to the original intent of creating a more robust and connected community here locally, we will be releasing a series of interviews from the folks who got this whole thing going 10 years ago. First up, we have an interview from Staphanie Teaford, one of GleanSLO’s founding members:
|EW: What was your role in the formation of GleanSLO? What inspired you to put your time and energy towards making this happen? |
ST: I was part of a group of people Carolyn Eicher (who was already a close friend mine) put together to brainstorm gleaning – the who, what and when. Our first meeting was Jan. 10. 2010 and Kim Pascuito, President of Central Coast Agriculture Network (CCAN), offered use of their organization’s online communication system for our networking to farmers. We had a goal to start collecting some fruit from area farms on Saturdays in the Spring and share it with those in need. By May 2010, a meeting of the “SLO County Gleaning Consortium” was held that included folks already rescuing food (Gail, I believe, was one of these people already doing the work). I was on the board of the Food Bank and by Nov. 2010, Carl Hansen (SLO Food Bank) joined our group and we organized into committees – Social Fabric for the Harvesting, Distribution, and Strategic Narrative and Fundraising. Carolyn, Jen and I were part of the social fabric/harvesting group and I was so happy to be meeting with them both on a regular basis. The idea of helping our community with fresh, healthy, and abundant produce was appealing to me as at the time I was working as a community liaison and quantitative researcher at a developing center at Cal Poly which focused on obesity education and prevention. My interest in health and community, coupled with my friendships with Carolyn and Jen, made working on the Glean SLO effort a pleasure.
EW: Do you remember a specific moment or period of time where you realized our community needed something like GleanSLO? Did anything like pandemics or local emergencies influence your ideas surrounding the program?
ST: I think my realization for the need of the program came more out of the abundance at local farms. I remember a tomato farmer calling Carolyn to say that rain was in the forecast and the field of tomatoes were ours for the taking since they would not last on the vine the next few days. We mounted an effort to harvest the tomatoes – a few individuals with our cars and whatever boxes we could collect and then dropped the tomatoes off locally where we thought people would be able to use them – at the YMCA, at Judson Terrace (low income, senior housing), etc. Knowing the value health wise of fresh produce made it really difficult for me to see that produce go to waste, to see it get tilled under.
EW: When this all began, did you have a vision for the future of GleanSLO, and how does that align or differ from where the program is at today? Where do you see the program going in the future?
ST: When we began, we envisioned community helping each other – it was very grass roots. The Food Bank was always the beneficiary of gleaned produce from our efforts when time allowed to get it to the warehouse for distribution. There were always those gleans (like the tomato one) where the hub and spoke model didn’t work with no time to get it up to the warehouse and out to the people and so we worked with Linda Vanasupa, Liz Schlemer and Roger Burton (Engineering at Cal Poly) to brainstorm ways we could get surplus produce to the people directly. In the end, focusing efforts to institutionalize with the Food Bank made the most sense because of volume of harvest, insurance, availabiltiy of funding and infrastructure. All this came at a cost, in my opinion, to the grass roots feel of Glean SLO but benefits were huge. I’m not sure where the program will go but my hope is that there is a way to have the entrepreneurial spirit reinjected so that creativity can flourish and gleaned produce can do more good in the community – as vegetable soup for seniors, preserved product for skills development and fund generation in social enterprise, a pay-as-you-can cafe offerings for hunger relief, etc.
EW: What do you see as the role of GleanSLO during times of crisis? Do you have any thoughts on the ethos and mission behind GleanSLO during the time of shelter-at-home and social distancing and how to redirect our energy to continue to benefit our community?
ST: It would be wonderful if GleanSLO could strengthen social fabric during these times. Maybe continued specific gleans with more distance between gleaners and produce drop-offs to healthcare personnel and those essential businesses as a gesture of thanks. With farmer permission, maybe we can enlarge the group of those who benefit from the bounty and show support for those who are under a tremendous strain emotionally and financially. Maybe a call out to those losing their jobs to come down to the food bank for as much produce as they can use.
EW: Any other thoughts or reflections?
ST: GleanSLO for me was people coming together to help people. We were a small group at first but over the years this idea appealed to many people and the program grew tremendously. That core is still there. While people may cross over and volunteer and get involved in other Food Bank efforts, there is something unique to the gleaning effort and I suspect more folks who glean see this work very separately from food bank work in general. There is a potential in GleanSLO that can spark into something new, a new effort to make additional use of our bounty, a gleaning of the gleaning.