From After the Harvest Volunteer Coordinator Mariah Friend: Spring is finally here and personally, I can’t wait to get back in the field! The fragrant lilacs are blooming and my nose is filled with the promise of soon-to-be-tasted ripe strawberries and fresh tomatoes. I can feel the shift in the air as farmers busy themselves planting between the rain showers, fertilizing their seeds with a mixture of hope and sheer determination. As everything begins to grow, I can almost taste the homemade fried squash and smell the buttered corn on the cob as it steams on my plate.

Yet, what I’m looking forward to most about this time of year is not just the food, but the sense of community it brings. It takes many hands to rescue the thousands of pounds we glean from local farms and gardens. All of the mouth-watering produce we provide to hungry people in our neighborhoods is literally hand-picked by you, our volunteers. But you’re more than volunteers. Together you make up a strong community of family and friends.

When I go into the field on any given morning, whether we are gleaning watermelon at the Juniper Hill Farm in Lawrence, or picking greens at Powell Gardens, whether we are popping a few blackberries in our mouths while we fill our empty clamshells, or taking a bite of an apple while bending over to gather windfalls, I know I am among friends. I know because I’m asked how my marathon training is going and where my last vacation was. I know because I’m excited to ask another volunteer about her new puppy or seek advice on buying my first house.

When we glean together, we’re not just sharing the harvest, but a slice of our daily lives. Together, we celebrate the birth of a grandbaby and someone’s acceptance into medical school. We remember to ask about a family member who’s in poor health and swap advice on how to grow the best tomatoes. As our muscles grow stronger (potato sacks are heavy) so do our friendships. While we’re serving our communities, we’re also building them.

As the new Volunteer Coordinator for After the Harvest, it’s my goal to encourage our connection to the food we glean and each other. One way to do that is by inviting you to join our VEG Squad (Vegetable Emergency Glean Squad), which is made up of core volunteers who help us glean during the weekdays and on short notice. This is a special group of people who come on a regular basis to glean together, laugh together and share together.

This year, we want to grow our VEG Squad to include you! If you have availability during the week and can help us glean on short notice, please come to the VEG Squad Beet ‘n’ Greet May 10, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. One of our long-term VEG Squad members will be hosting and providing coffee and treats at her home near W. 65th and State Line Road. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the VEG Squad, meet new friends and see old ones. To RSVP and get directions, contact mariah@aftertheharvestkc.org or call 816-921-1903.

We might not have harvested our first ripe tomatoes yet, but my heart is already full with gratitude for the opportunity to share another season of gleaning with you. Thank you for all that you do. I look forward to seeing you at the Beet ‘n’ Greet and in the field soon!