July 12, 2010

Our First Client Gleaning!

Common Good City Farm
Over the past year, BFC has worked to expand our gleaning program to provide fresh, local produce to our clients. We are kicking off this season with a Glean for the City event on Saturday, July 17th and we need your help! We will travel to Parker Farms in Colonial Beach, VA. Join us in the fields, and help collect more than a ton of delicious sweet corn for our food pantry. The event will last from 9am to 2pm, including driving time. For more information, please contact Vince Hill.

After weeks of unforgettable heat, the day dawned fresh and inviting, just the type of weather we needed for our first ever client gleaning project at Common Good City Farm. Sure enough, the day turned out to be educational, delicious, and fun.

Common Good City Farm, located about a half a mile from BFC’s NW center, is a neighborhood farm dedicated to raising awareness about food and food justice in DC. In addition to selling some of their produce to local restaurants, CGCF runs programs and workshops for low-income volunteers and school-aged children, as well as the curious, casual gardener. Several clients expressed interest in Common Good's "Green Tomorrows" program, which provides a bag of fresh produce to low-income residents in exchange for two or more hours per week of instructional, hands-on work on the farm.

Spencer Ellsworth and the other staff at Common Good City Farm generously took time to share their knowledge of urban gardening, basic plant care and food preparation.
Spencer Ellsworth, our CGCF guide for the day

They weren't the only ones ready to teach. Antoinette Jones, a grandmother born and raised in North Carolina, was one of the stars of the day. A long time client, Ms. Jones embodied the excitement and enthusiasm of our volunteers, waxing lyrical about a childhood in the country and the joys of gardening. She helped to make everyone feel at home in the garden, more specifically the cabbage patch. She taught everyone, even Spencer, a thing or two about how to keep your cabbages healthy and how to get the most out of your plants.

“It’s too late in the year for another [cabbage] head to grow, so you pop them out like collard greens...cut ‘em, clean ‘em, throw ‘em in the pot with a piece of meat, whatever you got and it taste just like collard greens!” Even if down home cooking isn’t your thing, Ms. Jones had some money-saving advice we could all use. “How many know how to make spices from the tops of your vegetables?” She asked the group as we rested in the shade. She patiently explained how to dry and prepare the tops of vegetables to make the spices normally sold for $7 or $8 dollars at the supermarket; chive from spring onions and a parsley substitute from carrot tops. “And now, what you’d buy in the store for $8 somethin’ dollars, you made it for free!”
Ms. Jones shows another client how to pull cabbage

But wisdom doesn’t always come from the most experienced among us. One of our clients, India, brought along her son and daughter at their expressed wish. “I told them about the trip and they were so excited...we love fruits and vegetables so anything they can dig up out of the ground, that’s good for them.” Antonio, 10, and Ania, 4, were a testament to their mother’s pride, ducking excitedly from patch to patch, pleading to be allowed to cut, pull, or dig something. “What can I do next?!” was a near constant chorus from the siblings and Ms. Jone’s young granddaughter Kayla.

Ania, 4, was our youngest gleaner of the day
These kids defy stereotypes; not only do they love healthy foods, but Antonio proclaimed his favorite vegetable to be broccoli! Kayla couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. “Whatever is green is good and I am going to eat it!" she declared amidst the still-tender squash beds. Ania’s enchantment was enough to capture the hearts of the entire group, as she pulled out a few my-size-beets and laid them gently in the bins to be brought back to Bread for the City with an ecstatic “Yeah!”.

The joy was palpable as our clients cut kale, pulled carrots and and clipped cucumbers to replace the canned goods that ordinarily adorn our food bags in the NW center.

Many of our clients were especially touched when they brought the gleaned produce back to our NW food pantry and saw how their hard work would translate into better food for them and their fellow clients. “This is so wonderful,” remarked one client. “”I’ve been [wanting] to volunteer for BFC for a long time! It’s great to pick produce for the pantry! We need to do this again!”

We ended the day tasting just-ripe peaches and discussing the meals people would make with the food they had picked with their own hands. BFC’s nutrition consultant Sharon Gruber spoke about the importance of “eating with the seasons,” using all the parts of the fruit and vegetables, and how to maximize your spending potential at farmer’s markets.

Many clients expressed an interest in returning to CGCF. None had heard of the urban farm before this trip, and all were impressed at the scale, scope, and mission of the organization’s work. Despite the convenient location of the community garden, few clients were aware of the possibilities that lay in this once-fallow field. Upon seeing the farm for the first time, one client remarked, “I never knew this garden was here! This is so cool to have right in our backyard!”

As we gathered for a picture to commemorate what we hope will be the first of many opportunities for our clients to be an active part of Bread, Kayla summed up our feelings in a way only a child can. “What a perfect picture for a perfect day!”
Our first ever client gleaners!

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