How gleaning could reshape the agricultural economy
Every year, farmers like Joe Tisbert of Valley Dream Farm in Cambridge, Vermont, are challenged to find an outlet for their surplus crop. Surplus harvest is defined as the food left over after a harvest that cannot be sold in the market, or that cannot be harvested. As a result, farmers earn less income for the season, but it also represents a potential loss of food for people in their communities.
Agriculture is the genesis of our food supply, and it is an industry that is plagued by labor shortages, the weather effects of climate change, food waste, price volatility and declining prices. unequal distribution of land.
In response to some of the challenges some Vermont farmers face, a non-profit organization in Vermont, Salvation Farms, which is not a farm, is developing ways to work with farmers to manage their surplus harvest and l ” deliver to people who need fresh produce.
Salvation Farms co-founders Theresa Snow and Jen O’Donnell piloted their model in 2004, which focused on the agrarian practice called gleaning. Since ancient times, the poor or travelers visited the local cultivated fields, the owners of which left small sections of their land to be harvested or gleaned by those with less means. Snow, who now sits as executive director of Salvation Farms, learned to glean while serving at AmeriCorps in the early 2000s on a farm in rural Virginia. She grew up with parents Snow described as “lowly farmers” and with grandparents who owned a dairy farm.
AmeriCorps then moved Snow to New York City, where she was tasked with helping families and individuals who lost their jobs, homes and loved ones during and after the 9/11 attacks. There, Snow realized how far people were from meeting their basic living needs.
âWhat I experienced in providing services – mostly social work to people looking for support – was that these people did not have the capacity to meet their basic needs because they had fully subscribed to a monetary economy, âSnow said.
Snow argues that this was not only a problem for residents of metropolitan areas, but also in his home state of Vermont, where people could be just as far from their food sources. After her stint at AmeriCorps, Snow returned to Vermont and returned to work on a farm. She struggled to figure out what to do with her life and when a farmer asked her where she really wanted to put her energy, she said she wanted to teach people farming. At this farm, Pete’s Greens, she designed and tested the Salvation Farms plan.
âI want to teach people about farms, I want to teach people and communities that through relationship and appreciation with farms, we can have more personal and community agency,â Snow said. âWe can have more control over meeting our needs. “
The United States has more than 2 million farms. According to the USDA, agriculture, food and adjacent industries contribute $ 1.11 trillion for the U.S. economy. Of this amount, agriculture produces $ 136.1 billion. Snow, along with Salvation Farms staff and volunteers, help farmers like Tisbert find a place for their surplus food.
Valley Dream Farm sits on a 300-acre expanse of mostly streams, pastures, and woodlands, with 10-15 acres set aside for food cultivation. Its main crops are potatoes, cucumbers and kale, which are sold through three channels: its own farm stand, wholesale buyers such as groceries, and a cooperative, Deep Root Organic Cooperative, which sells farmers’ produce to other food co-operatives, CSAs, and some grocery chains like Whole Foods.
âIt’s great to grow something and say, ‘Wow, I really like growing this little one. âI really like growing it, selling it and trying to make a living from it,â Tisbert said. âWell, you’ve got to find a market. Everyone must have a niche. People are trying to figure out where to go. How can I sell it? “
This is where Salvation Farms comes in.
âWhen I can’t market the product, I have Salvation Farms,â said Tisbert, who has worked with the organization since 2006. âThey show up and I give them things that I can’t sell in a timely manner. I have to bring it out because I need my space.
Salvation Farms is part of the Vermont Gleaning Collective, which is made up of a number of organizations that glean throughout the state.
For some farmers of color, like Amber Arnold, gleaning isn’t something her farm currently uses. Arnold, who identifies as black and multiracial, has other considerations in establishing his farm practices.