A 10-Year Retrospective on the Grateful Gleaners By Karen Gridley
In the early and enthusiastic days of WELL (in the spring of 2004), Esther Faber and I came together committed to starting a gleaning group. At the time, Esther was moving, so we held a huge garage sale and earned all the money to purchase orchard ladders, pickers and bags - the same tools that have served the group well these past 10 years.
It wasn’t long before we attracted the people to start our group: the dedicated gleaners—people who can’t stand to see good food go to waste, people who like to organize, and people who like to create forms! (Some gleaning groups don’t keep records, but that’s not our group! We have forms, lists, a mission statement, policies and we collect lots of information.)
Over the years, we’ve become well organized. Despite some turn-over, there have always been 6 or 7 dedicated people, known as team leaders, who have made the key decisions. I functioned as coordinator, at first formally and then informally, but our process has been one of consensus. We evolved into a truly collective organization set up in a way that no one person leads and no one is indispensable. We have a rotational system to prevent burnout, because even though the gleaning season is short, it’s very intense and involves a lot of organizing and physical labor. The core group has drawn from an evolving list of at least 25 people who sign up to glean.
Our organization has not needed much money to operate. We received a grant one year from WELL, but otherwise we have raised money ourselves through the spring plant sale, an enthusiastic collective effort which jump-starts the harvesting season. We have even had extra funds to give grants to local agricultural efforts, primarily the Brookside School Garden and Grange Farm School.
Although we have kept a rough estimate of the amount of fruit, vegetables and nuts we’ve gleaned over the years (up to 30 tons), I personally do not measure our success in tons. Those are the numbers one keeps when trying to obtain a grant or impress a foundation. The people we like to impress are those Willits groups or organizations who need and want good, non-sprayed fruits and vegetables for the people they serve. In the early years our list of drop-off locations was short: the Food Bank, Willits Daily Bread and the Willits Senior Center. At the end of 10 years, we have a list of about 15 programs and schools that welcome and use a box of fruit or other produce.
Success to us is the Willits Charter School cook who takes our donation of apples to have students make applesauce for their breakfast cereal, or the after-school program that works with the children to learn about the curing and cracking of walnuts for a snack, or the soup kitchen that is thrilled with the excess vegetables from a local farm.
Success is learning to find the balance within ourselves between feelings of abundance or scarcity, greed or generosity, and trusting that there will be enough for everyone, even in the midst of a “bad” year.
I feel that the Grateful Gleaners honors the earth by recognizing her abundance and by becoming a bridge between that abundance and those in need. The building of that bridge has required organization, a philosophy, and action.
We are very appreciative of WELL for serving as our umbrella non-profit agency when we occasionally needed that status. We are hopeful that the Grateful Gleaners can continue to grow and evolve for the next ten years!