Fresh Produce Gleaning

Buried treasures unearthed during ATH gleanings…and in your yard and kitchen

By After the Harvest Gleaning Coordinator Minnie O’Grady

Aren’t sandboxes just the greatest? Do you remember the absolute wonder of unearthing undiscovered treasure? Compelled by the excitement of not knowing what you might find next? That is how I felt on my first day gleaning at Voigt’s Farm. In the sunny field, I squatted down among the plants and the bugs like a kid on a mission. Digging around in the dirt, I sifted soil through my fingers and revealed handfuls of my own treasure: potatoes!

If you’ve never dug potatoes before, go out and do it right now (with permission, please). You’re in for a real treat. Actually, come on out and do it with us as a volunteer and glean for hungry families. Potatoes are just one example of how encountering your food while it’s still on the plant will astonish you. Have you ever seen how a cashew grows? Go ahead and look it up. I’ll wait. That stuff is crazy, right? Now you understand why cashews are so expensive. And that’s an excellent revelation! Experiencing our food as plants, rather than as shrink-wrapped products on a shelf, changes our perspective. And that perspective changes our behavior! Good luck wasting a cashew now!

This is just one way that I interpret our mission to reduce food waste. Each day I get to show people the magic of where our food comes from. I lead them to experience a taste of the sweat and energy expended to feed this country. I get to watch as our volunteers come to understand how precious just one fruit is, and all the resources that it represents.

I can only hope that opening minds out in the field has a trickle effect after our volunteers go home. Perhaps someone will change their shopping habits. Maybe they will be inspired to support a local farm. Maybe someone else will feel moved to reduce food waste in their own kitchen. For example, in my life, this is the first year that I’ve had the privilege to plant a garden. Naturally, I chose to make a forest of tomato plants to wander around in and smell. (Tomato plants are scientifically proven to have the most appealing aroma. No need to look it up. You can just trust me on this one.)

This means I have exactly one million tomatoes, which I can’t possibly eat all on my own…just look at me! So, I’m canning! Yesterday I made three quarts of salsa. It’s downright mesmerizing to watch as a giant pile of expiring produce materializes into beautiful little glass jars of salsa. They look good enough to buy! But I didn’t have to buy them, and in fact I probably won’t have to buy salsa all year.

My point is, there is so much potential in every little bit of food. It’s a treasure hunt of a different sort. Did you know you can make pesto out of carrot tops? You can even freeze it for later. Think about it, you just spent all that time and effort gleaning healthy, nutritious produce to donate to those in need in our community. Do you want to see any food go to waste? No way!

This is a cultural perspective shift, folks. Try asking yourself: Why have I decided that food is what I think it is? Are there other things that I can eat? Answer: Yes, you can eat so much more than you think! So get out a Tupperware and start freezing your carrot ends and onion butts. The stock that you’ll be ready to make when that baby fills up will knock your socks off. Let loose! Embrace the creativity lurking inside you and get eager to cook those things in the backyard that you used to think were “weeds.”

This is what I mean: Experiencing food as plants changes your perspective and teaches you about the capacity of the earth. The patience of the seasons. Using what you have, and seeing the potential of those things in a new light. At After the Harvest, we try to teach that all of it should be treated as a precious resource. That we should all look for creative ways to use absolutely everything…especially produce that might otherwise go to waste when there are hungry neighbors who need food.

For all of us, we can examine our habits. We can imagine new ways to use foods that would otherwise be wasted. So go digging. Or rather, come digging with me. What buried treasure is waiting for you to uncover?