By Mariah Notini
Last semester I took a class, Envisioning a Just Food System, at the University of Vermont. It was the first time in my three years of college that I realized the magnitude of social inequality in our food system nationwide. Even closer to home, my eyes were opened to the disparities that exist in the local food movement of Burlington. All of this led me to choose to glean for my senior capstone internship.
Gleaning is the act of harvesting surplus or blemished produce that cannot be harvested by farm employees because the financial return will be lesser than the normal profit. In Vermont, gleaned produce is often distributed to different food shelves and CSA programs in the area that serve limited or low income people. However, gleaning for me has been more than cleaning a vegetable field, it has allowed me to engage with the community in ways I would have never dreamed.
Every Tuesday and Wednesday, Andrea (the Vermont Foodbank’s super gleaner in Chittenden County) and I go to the Intervale and several farms in Hinesburg to harvest and pick up produce. Within these two days, I meet hundreds of people, from farmers to distributors, to volunteers who vary from 20 members of a law firm to children who have never even picked a vegetable before.
At the end of each day, not only have we helped connect people back to the land they live on, but we also become more connected to the food they eat. At the end of each day, we have a truck bed full of fresh, organic vegetables that will end up in the hands of people who might not otherwise have access to nourishing food.
VT Fresh Program
But it doesn’t stop there. We don’t just drop off vegetables and leave food shelf customers on their own to gather recipes and understand how to incorporate certain foods within their daily diet. Customers are given assistance; and that is where the VT Fresh Program comes in.
VT Fresh is a program of the Vermont Foodbank that provides nutrition education and cooking demos weekly to different partnering food shelves throughout Vermont. This is where the road meets the dirt. The vegetables have been harvested, packed, and distributed by the Vermont Foodbank to food shelves across the state. But how do we get people to choose the sometimes unfamiliar vegetables, over the more convenient but less nutritious food options?
Picture walking into a room, full of bread and pastries, canned food, and other shelf-stable staples. People are circling around with bags and carts, grabbing items from the shelves. Some people are conversing, as they see a familiar face, and some people have never stepped foot inside before. There is an aroma of sautéed garlic and butter wafting through the air, and maybe some maple syrup, too. That’s the draw. As people’s noses become curious of the delicious smell, they approach the table, where inside the sauté pan is full of fresh carrots from the Intervale Community Farm.
“Would you like to try some maple glazed carrots?” I say to the woman and her young daughter as they both grab a tester cup and try the warm vegetables drizzled in deliciousness. As they both smile with satisfaction, I hand them a pamphlet with the simple recipe printed on the front, and point them to the fridge where the carrots are stored.
Before they leave, the little girl runs back for one more taste, innocently declaring her fondness for this new dish. A seemingly small action, that immediately forms a smile across my face, yet confirms why a passion for nourishing, local food can go beyond my own plate, and into the homes of everyone who is willing to try.
Come out and help get more quality food on the plates of your neighbors!
And learn more about VT Fresh!
Mariah Notini is a student at UVM and an intern at the Vermont Food Bank.