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IMG_0455If my expanded gardens work, I’ll have more food than I could possibly eat, and, unless I find room for and get another freezer or pantry, way more than I can even put up for the winter. Why would any sane person invest in the expensive infrastructure of more raised beds if not to eat more veggies?

I’m a gleaner. I have relied on the kindness of farmers for almost 23 years to donate what is unsold after the market, sometimes also whole fields planted specifically for the purpose of letting people like me come and harvest it, and take it to wherever hungry people can access it. The Society of St. Andrews is a national network of gleaners, often but not always of faith-based organizations, who are alerted by a system of regional managers, in our case, Bill Walker of Black Mountain, where and when donated fields, truckloads or warehouses of food are ready to be harvested. Last year my team of gleaners (Rebekah David and James from Community of the Beloved shelter on Grove St. downtown) gathered and distributed over a ton and a half of vegetables that were given to us by hardworking, generous farmers.

SOSA’s gleaning initiatives are based on biblical instructions:

Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. (Lev. 19:9-10)
When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the stranger. (Lev. 23:22)
When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow. (Deut. 24:19-21)

Operating under a modern interpretation, we go to markets at closing time to gather what hasn’t sold. While it could become feed for livestock or poultry, or compost, that food is nonetheless loaded into our cars and sent, with best wishes and love, to where folks, who might otherwise never see such fresh, sustainably-grown produce, can find and be nourished by it.

Another way I glean is to raise consciousness and funds in my Jewish home, Congregation Beth HaTephila, for a CSA Gift Share that is delivered with the others to which our CSA group subscribes from Ivy Creek Family Farm. Our adult congregants and Religious School students alike contribute to buy to the box that is picked up each of 28 weeks, including the Extended Season that delivers up to Thanksgiving, by Jewish Family Services who rotates it through their client list. Sometimes after a bar or bat mitzvah, there are catered leftovers that I can take to the shelter. I always give the caterers my contact information, and sometimes I glean from them after their other gigs.

Now I have another way to feed the hungry. I get to be the gardener who grows for donation. And I will shamelessly use this forum to encourage everyone who gardens to plant an extra row, or a square or two in their Square Foot Garden, or anyone who is overwhelmed with, say, zucchini, to join me. There are many outlets where you can take that extra food: Manna Food Bank, Community of the Beloved (distributes, cooks and serves donated produce regularly – you can drop off on their picnic table, or under it on a sunny day, in the white-picket-fenced front yard of the shelter) on Grove St, or at the Senior Opportunity Center across the street, on the bench outside the Griffin Apartments next door, in the lobbies or on the benches where the bus stops at housing projects, where it will be extremely appreciated.

Why is feeding the hungry so important to me? I live to eat. My world is all about food: flavors, variety, texture, color, presentation. I don’t like being hungry. I don’t want anyone to be hungry. We waste 40% of the food that we produce, either rotting in our refrigerators, burning in our freezers, feeding weevils in our cabinets. Ironically, 40% of those living in western NC are undernourished or hungry. It’s not rocket science… Food comes out of the earth, nurtured by us gardeners, but ultimately bestowed by another unfathomably generous source. Pay it forward to those without a plot to plant in.

Ellen Rubenstein Chelmis

Author: Ellen Rubenstein Chelmis

Ellen Rubenstein Chelmis retired from manufacturing to start her fourth career as wife and mother at 37. Now at 67, she enjoys dabbling in various voluntary efforts to “save the world.” She’s a self-trained creative cook and lover of ethnic cuisines, and her consistent passion for food has evolved to embrace the Local Food movement—so much so that she grows food in her front yard (can’t get more local than that!). If Ellen can do this, anyone can. Ellen is an 18-year transplant to Asheville via Tampa, Washington DC suburbs (most of them), and Charlotte.

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