Farmer for a Day

dc central

Photo by CGIOS

I learned a new word (glean) while volunteering for DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) this month.

Once a year, my job allows us to take a day of service. Since we’ve had a pretty fall and I was getting tired of being cooped up in my office, I decided to get out to a farm.

I have volunteered in DCCK’s kitchen to prepare food before. It’s a great, fun experience. I recommend signing up if you’ve never volunteered there! But be aware, it’s a popular spot for DC volunteers so don’t wait until the last minute to go. Here’s the signup page. DCCK is unique in that volunteers work side-by-side with chefs in a culinary job training program. Meals are prepared from recycled foods and distributed to schools, agencies, and communities. Their goal is to combat hunger and promote health.

While looking at their volunteer page, I noticed the word “gleaning” and decided that was exactly what I was looking to do. DCCK works with farmers in the area to glean produce for use in their kitchen.

On the morning of my service day, I woke up early, packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a pear and M&Ms (I have a chocolate addiction), and drove 90 minutes out to a small organic farm on the shore. Homestead Farms, Inc is a fairly young farm in Millington, MD. Owned and run by Alison and Luke, the farm is now certified organic and offers CSA shares. Since Homestead was getting ready to move some greenhouses onto crop space, they volunteered fields of vegetables for DCCK’s use. Alison was a fantastic host, super friendly and eager to help out.

The morning started off quiet and peaceful. It was just three of us volunteers picking in the field until a group of middle schoolers showed up. They were extremely energetic, and one of them was definitely named Matthew. He must be the class clown. We heard his name a lot.

They happily and noisily picked the veggies and enjoyed repeating over and over the names of some of the stranger ones.

About one hour and an estimated 600 pounds of veggies later, the teachers told the kids to just go run. I think they were trying to tire them out for the long bus ride back to DC. But something odd happened. They didn’t run. Instead, the students stopped in the carrot rows, pulling and eating the organic carrots from the ground and marveling at how great they tasted. They couldn’t get enough. I was amazed to see kids so excited about something so healthy. As a general culture, we don’t give children enough credit. And hopefully by exposing these kids to farm life and fresh vegetables, they will make better choices when they get older.

Something else we considered while out in the field is what makes vegetables and fruits fit for consumption. Alison pointed out that it’s hard to sell their crops to regular grocery stores because the crops don’t look perfect (gasp! The leafy greens have holes in them.). DC Central Kitchen was more than happy to take these not visibly perfect vegetables to make perfect meals for the hungry and for all of us. It certainly made me look at the produce section a little differently the next time I entered Safeway. We ignore or throw out perfectly good crops because of insignificant blemishes. If we were hungry, or starving, I bet we’d feel and behave differently. Does your body really care what that head of lettuce looked like before it was consumed? Nope. It cares that it got the nutrients it needed for health and survival.

In the spirit of November and Thanksgiving, I am grateful to have had this opportunity to help with the gleaning, experience a beautiful fall morning outside, meet awesome people doing amazing work, and appreciate where food comes from just a little more.