“And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and the stranger” (Lev.19: 9,10).
“Healthy food nurtures a healthy community.”
Melita Love, Founder of Farm to Pantry
We spend a fair amount of time in Healdsburg, California. It’s a town about 75 miles North of San Francisco. Most people know it as wine country. We know it for minor league baseball; free concerts in the square on Tuesday evenings; the 4th of July parade, fireworks and apple pie at the local high school; sticky buns and Mexican chocolate sorbet at Downtown Bakery; two of the best bookstores in town that stay open late and let us browse for hours; summer feet; roosters that crow in the morning, ping pong and bocce ball; lazy days; reading days; after-dinner swims; family movie nights; and our favorite farmer’s market.
Healdsburg is a respite from the foggy cold summers of San Francisco. After 18 years of living in this beautiful city I still can’t get used to bundling up in layers in the middle of July.
We were looking for a way to give back to this community that we love—this community that we have spent so much time in over the years and that has been so kind to us. So perhaps it was beshert when I met Melita Love four years ago at the farmers’ market one Saturday morning in Healdsburg.
In 2008, Melita was at the market one day wondering what happens to all the beautiful fresh produce that doesn’t get sold at the end of the market day. She asked a couple of the farmers and was told they usually feed it to their farm animals or put it back in the soil as compost.
Melita had a light bulb moment and Farm to Pantry was born. She realized right then she could help solve two problems—hunger and waste—and came up with a terrific solution to both. Melita began to visit the vendors with a little red wagon at the end of the market day, filling it up with the extra produce, loading up her car and taking it over to the local food pantry.
But there was also waste at the farms and fresh fruit falling from backyard trees. That’s when Melita organized a bunch of volunteers (like my family) to pick, or “glean,” from these local farms and backyard homes. Farm to Pantry still collects every Saturday at the local farmer’s market, but the bulk of what they do now is gleaning. They glean twice a week, with an array of volunteers from seniors to teens to families. In addition to the Food Pantry, they now deliver fresh produce to child care and early education centers for low income families, after school programs, elementary schools, low-income senior and disabled centers as well as several shelters.
To date, Farm to Pantry has gleaned over 72 tons of nuts, fruits and vegetables that might have gone to waste and are, instead being distributed to families, seniors and children who have limited access to fresh food.
My family gleans every week in July and has been doing so for about four years now. When we are out there in the fields, it’s kind of cool to feel such a direct connection to our ancestors.
I consulted with our wonderful Rabbi and friend, Ryan Bauer, from Congregation Emanu-El in SF wanting to learn more about what the Torah says about gleaning. He explained to me that the text above is not actually about charity but about property law. The Torah, he pointed out, is telling us that we never owned the land or the crop in the first place. What the farmer owns is the access to the first right to pass over the food. They cannot take everything because they don’t really own it. The needy actually own the gleanings. We are, therefore, giving those less fortunate what is rightfully theirs. This makes sense and feels right to me. Everyone is equally entitled to food that is fresh and healthy and when we glean we are helping to “right” this disparity.
We are so grateful for the food we eat that’s grown by the farmers’ hands. We are grateful to spend time in a place like Healdsburg that puts my family back together again after a school year filled with schedules and homework and constant rushing. And we are forever grateful to Melita for all her hard work in ensuring that everyone in Healdsburg and Sonoma County has equal access to chemical-free farm fresh fruits and vegetables.
For more information, please check out Farm to Pantry’s Facebook page here.