Friday, October 8, 2010

Gleanings on gleaning

If I were a fundamentalist this could be an illustration for a lesson on original sin, but there is nothing original about confusing charitable activity with justice.
I've been struggling for two weeks with how to say that without sounding harsh, and maybe there is no way to do so.
It was a wonderful day of gleaning, though a bit hot by late morning. As part of a Slow Food Russian River initiative we gleaned a private small orchard in Sebastopol, and got 676 pounds of apples which eventually went to the Redwood Gospel Mission and a public school in north county.
The team I worked with were great - good conversation along with the sun and scent of an apple orchard and rewarding work - marred only by the chain saws across the farm track where Dutton were taking out another orchard to put in grapes.
But I think it was the conversation with some of the gleaning leaders in the county at the luncheon celebration afterward (great fresh local food eaten in the shade at Bayer Farm) that really made me pause.
I have had an idea for some time that we need to get young people involved in gleaning. I've been thinking particularly about high school students doing service learning. But it seems like the gleaning being done now is by people who already know the food system in order to supply charities with produce. I'd so like to see both a learning component, and an involvement of those who could benefit from more fresh, local produce, and often can't afford it, in the gleaning effort itself. If that means that volunteers who are experienced and trusted by growers to glean their fields and orchards need to companion others, well, that's fine. I wish I were sure they were willing to. But I am questioning whether gleaning which is done to redistribute surplus by those who don't need the gleaned produce is really gleaning as I understand it. And whether such gleaning efforts can really be called food justice actions.
Give a person an apple, or teach a person to pick an apple, or help low income people form an apple gleaning cooperative? which is the just thing to do?
Is it those Hebrew bible images of gleaning getting in the way? Perhaps I am a bit of a fundamentalist?
(Thanks to Michael Dimmock for the photo.)

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