Last year Sno-Valley Hopelink started an innovative gleaning program in Carnation. Gleaning is the act of harvesting surplus food for people in the community who struggle to make ends meet. The program was organized around the idea of having volunteer harvesters visit local farms and deliver the produce to local food banks. Oxbow was first in line to participate! This was not their first experience with gleaners.
When I asked farmer Luke about Oxbow’s history in gleaning he first told me about mustard. When a bottle of mustard is nearly gone he adds olive oil, chopped onion and honey to make honey mustard. This stretches his original investment a little further. It’s this mindset that keeps the farmers at Oxbow inviting volunteers to harvest the veggies that can’t be sold because they are not up to standard, and distribute them to local food banks. Farming isn’t a perfect system – you can’t plant twelve seeds and expect to get twelve perfect carrots, in fact you’re not likely to even get 12 carrots. And you certainly can’t expect to sell all the carrots you planted. Farmers have to overshoot which means that they often end up with a surplus of perfectly nutritious food, if not perfectly pretty. Luke explained that farmers have an emotional connection to that food after of all the hard work that’s been put into planning, planting and weeding a bed. Sales keep the farm alive but it is heartbreaking to see food sit in the field when it could be feeding people.
For many of the volunteer gleaners who I worked with this was their first visit to a working farm. We got to learn the amount of work that it takes to pick and prepare just a few pounds of green beans. The gleaners and I developed a new appreciation for food and for farmers. In the food bank, I saw families go home with the bounty of the day. Sometimes the food was familiar, but like many CSA customers, families were excited to experiment with foods that were new to them. Overall, gleaners and patrons of the food bank were thrilled with the high quality and freshness of the food—something that’s not always easily obtainable when money is tight.
I was drawn to Oxbow not only for their delicious vegetables, exuberant personalities, emphasis on education and the environment but also for their dedication to feeding people regardless of income. In addition to their retail, wholesale and educational programs, they generously donate to the wider community.
On September 22nd Oxbow will hold its 4th annual Gleaning Day and we invite CSA shareholders to take part in this day of giving. If you would like to join us, lettuce know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also volunteer with Hopelink’s Gleaning Program and harvest surplus veggies from farms throughout the Snoqualmie Valley.
Luke, Adam, Sarah, Megan, Bridget, Tino, Yolanda, Valentin, Julio-Cesar,Mike, Mariana, Lisa, Alice, Sarah D, Dana, Joshua, Arwen, Grace, Brandon, (and our inspiration Pearl, Emuna, Avi Ray & Zoe Rose).