Pictured above:  VEG Squader Suzy Conaway, dressed in her favorite gleaning outfit, harvests in a tomato jungle!

From Lisa Ousley, After the Harvest Executive Director: After the Harvest has many things to be grateful for this year, but one we’ve been grateful for repeatedly throughout this gleaning season rose up to stir our gratitude once again this week. Our VEG (Vegetable Emergency Glean) Squad has been everything we hoped for and more, and we are so deeply grateful to each and every VEG Squad member.

The VEG Squad was the brainchild of Sandy Vivian, Outreach and Communications Director at After the Harvest. She envisioned a team of committed volunteers with a little extra time who enjoy gleaning enough to volunteer when the season is busy and when gleanings pop up at the last minute, gleanings that are almost impossible to fill. I have been on those gleanings, when it was me and a friend in a field of mustard greens as large as a baseball diamond, and no one else was available. It can be daunting!

Here is a recounting of the latest feat of our core VEG Squad:

Emily, ATH’s Gleaning Network Manager, got word of a tomato gleaning at the Gieringer farm in Edgerton, KS, at noon on Sept. 8. The gleaning was to start at 7:30 the next morning. Emily quickly diverted from her plan to pick apples. Richard McKie and Mary Dees had already signed up—many of our VEG Squad heroes sign up in advance when they know they’re going to be free. Both of them had setbacks this season with injuries or health issues…but both couldn’t wait to get back in the fields to help.

Sandy sent a gleaning alert to 2,300 volunteers and posted the gleaning on social media. Then she sent a special email to the VEG Squad and made phone calls. Emily and Sandy monitored possible signups until late that night. Only VEG Squaders responded (which is not unusual): Suzy Conaway, Tom and Barb Decker and Jeff Horn said yes, they would help and then all headed to the farm the next morning. Together with Emily, Gleaning Coordinator Mariah Friend, Mary and Richard, they were just enough to rescue the tomatoes—1,200 lbs!

The VEG Squad is truly remarkable. They have become seasoned veterans—experts on produce grown and gleaned in our area. They know how to pick a peach without breaking branches and damaging the tree. They work quickly and with confidence. They are friends and they enjoy working together. They also know that many times we get little advance notice about gleaning opportunities, and they should know by now that they are key to our success.

To the VEG Squad, thank you, from the bottom of our closed-toed shoes, for all you have given this year. You’ve given of your time, of yourselves, to our shared mission; and we thank you on behalf of struggling families who will eat better because of you.